Microtubules are polymers essential for cell morphogenesis, cell division and intracellular transport. Microtubules execute their diverse cellular roles by forming suprastructures with highly distinctive geometries: the radial cytoplasmic array, the short, highly parallel axonemal array, the spindle array or the tiled long axonal array. The microtubule cytoskeleton is a complex function of many unit operations, the individual actions of cytoskeletal regulators: nucleation, growth and shrinkage, severing and motor movement. Moreover, the microtubule itself is more than just a naive roadway for cellular components to transit along. Alpha and beta tubulins have multiple isoforms and are subject to highly diverse, abundant and evolutionarily conserved post-translational modifications that mark subpopulations of microtubules (Garnham and Roll-Mecak, 2012). Given the central role microtubules play in basic cellular processes, it is not surprising that microtubule regulators have been implicated in many human diseases, including cancers, cardiovascular disease, fungal, bacterial and viral infections, as well as neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Our efforts concentrate on two families of microtubule regulators: microtubule severing enzymes and enzymes that post-translationally modify tubulin. Our research plan is highly interdisciplinary, integrating techniques and concepts from biophysics, structural, molecular and cell biology to answer two closely interdigitated questions: how is the structure of the microtubule locally perturbed when it is engaged by these regulators and how do these regulators affect microtubule architecture and dynamics at the cellular level? Perturbation of microtubule dynamics has emerged as a common theme in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases and our work has implications for the etiologies of all these disorders. In the last year we initiated several studies aimed at understanding the mechanistic underpinnings of the functions of microtubule post-translational modifications as well as continued our work on the mechanism of microtubule severing by spastin. Recent work from my group focused on the mechanism of action of the of tubulin acetyltransferase (TAT), an unusual enzyme that acetylates alpha-tubulin Lys40 situated in the microtubule lumen. TAT is required for polarity establishment and directional migration. My group determined the first structure of the tubulin acetyltransferase in complex with its substrate shedding light on its catalytic mechanism. Unexpectedly, despite the confined intraluminal location of Lys40, we found that the enzyme efficiently scans the microtubule bidirectionally and acetylates stochastically without a preference for ends. Using first-principles modeling and single-molecule diffusion measurements we demonstrated that TAT catalytic activity, not constrained luminal diffusion, is rate-limiting for acetylation. Thus, because of its preference for microtubules over free tubulin and its modest catalytic rate, TAT can function as a slow clock for microtubule lifetimes and selectively marks stable microtubules in cells (Szyk et al., 2014). My group has also been responsible in the last year for the development of novel methods for generating homogenous acetylated, glutamylated, or tyrosinated tubulin and microtubules for in vitro assays (Vemu et al., 2014). The generation of differentially modified microtubules now enables a mechanistic dissection of the effects of tubulin post-translational modifications on the dynamics and mechanical properties of microtubules as well as the recruitment and behavior of motors and microtubule-associated proteins. Lastly, we are actively working on purifying to homogeneity and in biophysical quantities several tubulin modification enzymes to investigate their mechanism of action. We are currently also using these enzyme preparations to modify microtubules in vitro in order to investigate the effects of the introduced tubulin modification on microtubule dynamics and the recruitment and activity of motors and microtubule severing enzymes spastin and katanin.

Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Zip Code
Valenstein, Max L; Roll-Mecak, Antonina (2016) Graded Control of Microtubule Severing by Tubulin Glutamylation. Cell 164:911-21
Vemu, Annapurna; Atherton, Joseph; Spector, Jeffrey O et al. (2016) Structure and Dynamics of Single-isoform Recombinant Neuronal Human Tubulin. J Biol Chem 291:12907-15
Meyer, Peter A; Socias, Stephanie; Key, Jason et al. (2016) Data publication with the structural biology data grid supports live analysis. Nat Commun 7:10882
Sun, Xun; Park, James H; Gumerson, Jessica et al. (2016) Loss of RPGR glutamylation underlies the pathogenic mechanism of retinal dystrophy caused by TTLL5 mutations. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:E2925-34
Garnham, Christopher P; Vemu, Annapurna; Wilson-Kubalek, Elizabeth M et al. (2015) Multivalent Microtubule Recognition by Tubulin Tyrosine Ligase-like Family Glutamylases. Cell 161:1112-1123
Yu, Ian; Garnham, Christopher P; Roll-Mecak, Antonina (2015) Writing and Reading the Tubulin Code. J Biol Chem 290:17163-72
Roll-Mecak, Antonina (2015) Intrinsically disordered tubulin tails: complex tuners of microtubule functions? Semin Cell Dev Biol 37:11-9
Vemu, Annapurna; Garnham, Christopher P; Lee, Duck-Yeon et al. (2014) Generation of differentially modified microtubules using in vitro enzymatic approaches. Methods Enzymol 540:149-66
Szyk, Agnieszka; Deaconescu, Alexandra M; Spector, Jeffrey et al. (2014) Molecular basis for age-dependent microtubule acetylation by tubulin acetyltransferase. Cell 157:1405-15
Ziolkowska, Natasza E; Roll-Mecak, Antonina (2013) In vitro microtubule severing assays. Methods Mol Biol 1046:323-34

Showing the most recent 10 out of 17 publications