Modulation of microtubule dynamics by drugs: a paradigm for the actions of cellular regulators

Cell Struct Funct. 1999 Oct;24(5):329-35. doi: 10.1247/csf.24.329.


Microtubules are intrinsically dynamic polymers. Two kinds of dynamic behaviors, dynamic instability and treadmilling, are important for microtubule function in cells. Both dynamic behaviors appear to be tightly regulated, but the cellular molecules and the mechanisms responsible for the regulation remain largely unexplored. While microtubule dynamics can be modulated transiently by the interaction of regulatory molecules with soluble tubulin, the microtubule itself is likely to be the primary target of cellular molecules that regulate microtubule dynamics. The antimitotic drugs that modulate microtubule dynamics serve as excellent models for such cellular molecules. Our laboratory has been investigating the interactions of small drug molecules and stabilizing microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) with microtubule surfaces and ends. We find that drugs such as colchicine, vinblastine, and taxol, and stabilizing MAPs such as tau, strongly modulate microtubule dynamics at extremely low concentrations under conditions in which the microtubule polymer mass is minimally affected. The powerful modulation of the dynamics is brought about by the binding of only a few drug or MAP molecules to distinct binding sites at the microtubule surface or end. Based upon our understanding of the well-studied drugs and stabilizing MAPs, it is clear that molecules that regulate dynamics such as Kin 1 and stathmin could bind to a large number of distinct tubulin sites on microtubules and employ an array of mechanisms to selectively and powerfully regulate microtubule dynamics and dynamics-dependent cellular functions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Colchicine / metabolism
  • Colchicine / pharmacology
  • Guanosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Microtubules / drug effects*
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Mitosis / physiology
  • Paclitaxel / metabolism
  • Paclitaxel / pharmacology
  • Protein Binding
  • Spindle Apparatus / drug effects
  • Spindle Apparatus / physiology
  • Tubulin / metabolism
  • Vinblastine / metabolism
  • Vinblastine / pharmacology
  • tau Proteins / metabolism
  • tau Proteins / pharmacology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Tubulin
  • tau Proteins
  • Vinblastine
  • Guanosine Triphosphate
  • Paclitaxel
  • Colchicine