On the rigidity of the cytoskeleton: are MAPs crosslinkers or spacers of microtubules?

Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2000 Jul;46(5):949-65.


Microtubules are fibers of the cytoskeleton involved in mitosis, intracellular transport, motility and other functions. They contain microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) bound to their surface which stabilize microtubules and promote their assembly. There has been a debate on additional functions of MAPs, e.g. whether MAPs crosslink microtubules and thus increase their rigidity, or whether they act as spacers between them. We have studied the packing of microtubules in the presence of MAPs by solution X-ray scattering using synchrotron radiation. Microtubules free in solution produce a scattering pattern typical of an isolated hollow cylinder, whereas tightly packed microtubules generate a pattern dominated by interparticle interference. The interference patterns are interpreted in terms of the Hosemann paracrystal concept, adapted for arrays of parallel fibers with hexagonal arrangement in the plane perpendicular to the fiber axes (Briki et al., 1998). Microtubules without MAPs can rapidly and efficiently be compressed by centrifugation, as judged by the transition from a "free microtubule" to a "packed microtubule" X-ray scattering pattern. MAPs make the microtubule array highly resistant to packing, even at high centrifugal forces. This emphasizes the role of MAPs as spacers of microtubules rather than crosslinkers. A possible function is to keep the microtubule tracks free for the approach of motor proteins carrying vesicle or organelle cargoes along microtubules.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Cytoskeleton / chemistry*
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / chemistry*
  • Microtubules / chemistry*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Scattering, Radiation
  • Swine
  • Synchrotrons
  • Tubulin / chemistry
  • X-Rays


  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Tubulin