We studied the molecular form of tubulin in solution by ultrafiltration, nondenaturing electrophoresis, and chemical cross-linking. Our results are not consistent with the generally-held belief that tubulin in solution is a 110,000-mol-wt dimer. Rather, tubulin in solution consists of small oligomers; dimers are a minority species. The small proportion of dimers was readily apparent from ultrafiltration experiments. We first compared the filterability (defined as the ratio of protein concentration in filtrate to that applied to the filter) of phosphocellulose-purified tubulin (PC-tubulin) with aldolase (142,000 mol wt). Using an Amicon XM 300 filter, the filterability of PC-tubulin at room temperature and at a concentration of 0.5 mg/ml was only 0.12, whereas under the same conditions the filterability of aldolase was 0.60. We determined the average effective molecular weight of tubulin from its filterability on XM 300 filters calibrated with standard proteins. At room temperature, PC-tubulin at 0.5 mg/ml had an effective molecular weight of approximately 300,000. This molecular weight was significantly reduced at 10 degrees C, indicating that oligomers dissociated at low temperatures. Oligomers were also demonstrated by chemical cross-linking using glutaraldehyde, dimethyl suberimidate, and bis[2-(succinimidooxycarbonyoxy)ethyl] sulfone. In addition, PC-tubulin ran as a series of discrete bands in a nondenaturing PAGE system at alkaline pH. Quantitative examination of the mobilities of these bands and of standard proteins revealed that the bands represented a series of oligomeric forms. Similar electrophoretic patterns were observed in solutions of tubulin containing microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) but with a shift to a greater proportion of higher oligomers. Nondenaturing PAGE at pH 8.3 showed that a shift towards higher oligomers also occurred in the absence of MAPs as the concentration of tubulin was increased. This concentration-dependence of oligomerization at room temperature was further demonstrated by ultrafiltration. When solutions of PC-tubulin at concentrations less than 0.25 mg/ml were ultrafiltered, filterability increased as concentration decreased. Quantitative studies of filterability following progressive dilution or concentration showed that this process was completely and rapidly reversible. A diffuse pattern of PC-tubulin on nondenaturing PAGE at pH 7 was observed and is consistent with a mixture of oligomers in rapid equilibrium.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

This content is only available as a PDF.