The sulfhydryl groups of tubulin are highly reactive entities. The reactivity of the sulfhydryl groups is sensitive to the presence of tubulin ligands, making these groups excellent probes for the interaction of tubulin with ligands. When tubulin is reacted with N,N'-ethylenebis-(iodoacetamide), two intrachain cross-links form in the beta subunit. Formation of one of these cross-links is completely blocked by colchicine, podophyllotoxin, and nocodazole; formation of the other is blocked completely by maytansine, phomopsin A and GTP and partly by Vinca alkaloids. Different ligands also differ in their effect on the rate of alkylation of tubulin with iodo[14C]acetamide, with vinblastine and phomopsin A being strong inhibitors and maytansine having very little effect. Oxidation of certain key sulfhydryl groups can inhibit microtubule assembly. One of these sulfhydryl groups appears to be cys239, but there are others not yet identified. Sulfhydryl-oxidizing agents also interfere with microtubule-mediated processes in vivo, raising the question of the existence of a physiological regulator of microtubule assembly. Potential physiological regulators have been examined to see if they can control microtubule assembly in vitro at their physiological concentrations. Of the ones that have been examined, thioredoxin and thioredoxin reductase are much better candidates for being physiological regulators than are either cystamine or glutathione.