Tubulin was extracted from spindles isolated from embryos of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and purified through cycles of temperature-dependent assembly and disassembly. At 37 degrees C, the majority of the cycle-purified spindle tubulin polymer is insensitive to free Ca++ at concentrations below 0.4 mM, requiring free Ca++ concentrations greater than 1 mM for complete depolymerization. However, free Ca++ at concentrations above 1 microM inhibits initiation of polymer formation without significantly inhibiting the rate of elongation onto existing polymer. At 15 degrees C and 18 degrees C, temperatures that are physiological for S. purpuratus embryos, spindle tubulin polymer is sensitive to free Ca++ at micromolar concentrations such that 3-20 microM free Ca++ causes complete depolymerization. Calmodulin purified from either bovine brain or S. purpuratus eggs does not affect the Ca++ sensitivity of the spindle tubulin at 37 degrees C, although both increase the Ca++ sensitivity of cycle-purified bovine brain tubulin. These results indicate that cycle-purified spindle tubulin and cycle-purified bovine brain tubulin differ significantly in their responses to calmodulin and in their Ca++ sensitivities at their physiological temperatures. They also suggest that, in vivo, spindle tubulin may be regulated by physiological levels of intracellular Ca++ in the absence of Ca++-sensitizing factors.

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