Interface-acting nucleotide controls polymerization dynamics at microtubule plus-and minus-ends

Lauren A. McCormick, Joseph M. Cleary, William O. Hancock, Luke M. Rice

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GTP-tubulin is preferentially incorporated at growing microtubule ends, but the biochemical mechanism by which the bound nucleotide regulates the strength of tubulin:tubulin interactions is debated. The ‘self-acting’ (cis) model posits that the nucleotide (GTP or GDP) bound to a particular tubulin dictates how strongly that tubulin interacts, whereas the ‘interface-acting’ (trans) model posits that the nucleotide at the interface of two tubulin dimers is the determinant. We identified a testable difference between these mechanisms using mixed nucleotide simulations of microtubule elongation: with a self-acting nucleotide, plus-and minus-end growth rates decreased in the same proportion to the amount of GDP-tubulin, whereas with interface-acting nucleotide, plus-end growth rates decreased disproportionately. We then experimentally measured plus-and minus-end elongation rates in mixed nucleotides and observed a disproportionate effect of GDP-tubulin on plus-end growth rates. Simulations of microtubule growth were consistent with GDP-tubulin binding at and ‘poisoning’ plus-ends but not at minus-ends. Quantitative agreement between simulations and experiments required nucleotide exchange at terminal plus-end subunits to mitigate the poisoning effect of GDP-tubulin there. Our results indicate that the interfacial nucleotide determines tubulin:tubulin interaction strength, thereby settling a longstanding debate over the effect of nucleotide state on microtubule dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberRP89231
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology

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