The dynamic microtubule cytoskeleton mediates intracellular organization, is responsible for force generation in dividing or migrating eukaryotic cells, and forms tracks for intracellular trafficking. The key dynamic properties of microtubules, including polarized growth and dynamic instability, stem directly from the unique structure and GTP hydrolysis activity of their building blocks, asymmetric dimers of ?- and -tubulin. Active ?-tubulin dimers are assembled, maintained at high concentration in the cytoplasm, and degraded by highly conserved tubulin cofactors whose molecular mechanisms remain mostly mysterious, due in part to a lack of biochemical reconstitution. In addition, we do not understand how conserved families of Tumor Overexpressed Gene (TOG) domain proteins manipulate ?-tubulin dimer conformation and incorporation to modulate microtubule dynamics. The importance of these pathways is underscored by the fact that genetic defects that impair the regulation of soluble tubulin are linked to inherited neurological and developmental disorders. This proposal is focused on understanding the mechanisms of these soluble ?-tubulin regulators and how they impact microtubule dynamics. Our biophysical approach combines methods across multiple resolution scales, including in vitro reconstitution of purified protein complexes, 3D structural determination by x-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, and fluorescence microscopy-based assays of microtubule dynamics in real time. First, we will determine the mechanism by which tubulin cofactors regulate ?-tubulin dimer assembly, activation, and degradation. We propose a new model, based on extensive biochemical reconstitution and structural studies, in which tubulin cofactors and a dedicated Arf-like G-protein form multi-subunit platforms on which soluble ?-tubulins are manipulated, powered by GTP hydrolysis cycles. To test this model we will; 1) determine the 3D structures of tubulin cofactor platforms in three biochemical states to understand their molecular organization and conformational changes during catalysis; 2) dissect the mechanism of GTP hydrolysis during catalytic regulation; and 3) follow up exciting preliminary studies showing their direct effect in activating microtubule polymerization in vitro. Second, we will examine the molecular mechanisms of two types of TOG domains found in two classes of microtubule regulators, XMAP215/Dis1 and CLASP, which despite their structural similarity perform different functions. To determine how these proteins control microtubule assembly and function, we propose to explore multiple hypotheses, including a model based on our preliminary studies suggesting a wrapped organization of multiple TOG domains around each ?-tubulin dimer. To test this model we will: 1) determine 3D structures of multi-TOG-domains-soluble ?-tubulin dimer complexes using electron microscopy; 2) determine x-ray structures for two-adjacent TOG domains sets, from the two classes, in complex with soluble ?-tubulin dimer; 3) dissect the unique functions of TOG domains from the two regulator classes by studying chimeric proteins, generated by domain swapping, in microtubule dynamics assays in vitro; and 4) visualize multi-TOG domain ?-tubulin complexes at polymerizing microtubule ends. We expect our studies to yield new structural and biophysical models that will provide missing information on the regulation of soluble tubulin activation and recruitment during microtubule polymerization. This understanding will in turn point toward new strategies for addressing defects in tubulin biogenesis and regulation, potentially impacting patients with a range of developmental and neurological disorders.

Public Health Relevance

This project is highly relevant to public health as it focuses on understanding mechanisms of quality control pathways regulating cellular tubulin reserves, necessary for all microtubule dynamic polymerization activities, which are critical for human cell to form shape, crawl, duplicate during development. Genetic defects that impair tubulin or these quality control pathways are linked to inherited neurological and developmental disorders, including Lissencephaly, Kenny-Caffey Syndrome and Giant Axonal neuropathy. A deeper biochemical and molecular understanding of these pathways will be critical to develop effective strategies to address these inherited disorders, and could also highlight ways to control the growth of tumor cells by inhibiting microtubule dynamics.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Macromolecular Structure and Function C Study Section (MSFC)
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Gindhart, Joseph G
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University of California Davis
Anatomy/Cell Biology
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Nithianantham, Stanley; McNally, Francis J; Al-Bassam, Jawdat (2018) Structural basis for disassembly of katanin heterododecamers. J Biol Chem 293:10590-10605
Nithianantham, Stanley; Cook, Brian D; Beans, Madeleine et al. (2018) Structural basis of tubulin recruitment and assembly by microtubule polymerases with tumor overexpressed gene (TOG) domain arrays. Elife 7:
Al-Bassam, Jawdat (2017) Revisiting the tubulin cofactors and Arl2 in the regulation of soluble ??-tubulin pools and their effect on microtubule dynamics. Mol Biol Cell 28:359-363
Nithianantham, Stanley; Le, Sinh; Seto, Elbert et al. (2015) Tubulin cofactors and Arl2 are cage-like chaperones that regulate the soluble ??-tubulin pool for microtubule dynamics. Elife 4: