Molecular mechanisms of microtubular organelle assembly in Tetrahymena

J Eukaryot Microbiol. May-Jun 2000;47(3):185-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1550-7408.2000.tb00037.x.


Thanks to recent technological advances, the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila has emerged as an attractive model organism for studies on the assembly of microtubular organelles in a single cell. Tetrahymena assembles 17 types of distinct microtubules, which are localized in cilia, cell cortex, nuclei, and the endoplasm. These diverse microtubules have distinct morphologies, stabilities, and associations with specific Microtubule-Associated Proteins. For example, kinesin-111, a microtubular motor protein, is required for assembly of cilia and is preferentially targeted to microtubules of actively assembled, immature cilia. It is unlikely that the unique properties of individual microtubules are derived from the utilization of diverse tubulin genes, because Tetrahymena expresses only a single isotype of alpha- and two isotypes of 1-tubulin. However, Tetrahymena tubulins are modified secondarily by a host of posttranslational mechanisms. Each microtubule organelle type displays a unique set of secondary tubulin modifications. The results of systematic in vivo mutational analyses of modification sites indicate a divergence in significance among post-translational mechanisms affecting either alpha- or beta-tubulin. Both acetylation and polyglycylation of alpha-tubulin are not essential and their complete elimination does not change the cell's phenotype in an appreciable way. However, the multiple polyglycylation sites on 1-tubulin are essential for survival, and their partial elimination dramatically affects cell motility, growth and morphology. Thus, both high-precision targeting of molecular motors to individual organelles as well as organelle-specific tubulin modifications contribute to the creation of diverse microtubules in a single cytoplasm of Tetrahymena.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Microtubules / physiology*
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Morphogenesis
  • Organelles / physiology*
  • Organelles / ultrastructure
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Tetrahymena / physiology*
  • Tetrahymena / ultrastructure


  • Protein Isoforms