Interactions of the catharanthus (Vinca) alkaloids with tubulin and microtubules

Pharmacol Ther. 1991;51(2):257-67. doi: 10.1016/0163-7258(91)90081-v.


The dimeric Vinca alkaloids represent a group of important anti-tumor compounds whose intracellular target is tubulin, the protein monomer of microtubules. In this review data on the binding of these drugs to tubulin and microtubules in vitro are examined. The binding to tubulin is linked to a protein self-association reaction described by Na and Timasheff (1986a) as a ligand-induced plus ligand-mediated isodesmic self-association reaction. The simplest model which fits the binding data is one in which there is one intrinsic site which is linked to the self-association process. Effects of solution variables on the binding and self-association explain the wide variation of reported apparent binding constants for Vinca alkaloids to tubulin. The Vinca drugs also bind to microtubules via a low number of sites at the ends of microtubules with apparent high affinity and which are involved in the inhibition of tubulin dimer addition to the microtubule ends, and to sites along the microtubule wall with apparent low affinity which are involved in the disruption of the microtubules into spiraled protofilaments. This review also compares available binding data for different natural and semi-synthetic Vinca alkaloids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Microtubules / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Tubulin / metabolism*
  • Vinblastine / metabolism
  • Vinca Alkaloids / chemistry
  • Vinca Alkaloids / metabolism*
  • Vinca Alkaloids / pharmacology


  • Tubulin
  • Vinca Alkaloids
  • Vinblastine