Most, if not all, microtubules in vivo grow unidirectionally from a nucleation site such as the centrosome. This organized growth of microtubules can generate and maintain the radially symmetrical array of interphase microtubules as well as the bipolar mitotic apparatus. To investigate the regulation of polarized microtubule growth, we have prepared a cell-free extract from surf clam oocytes that exhibits unidirectional microtubule assembly. Immunofluorescence microscopy was used to visualize the net assembly of microtubules onto the fast (plus)- and slow (minus)- growing ends of isolated ciliary axonemes. All detectable microtubule growth in these cytoplasmic extracts occurred at the plus (+) ends and the extent of (+) end growth was regulated by subtle changes in pH. Microtubule assembly in these crude extracts was highly favored at pH 7.3, the pH of the post-fertilization cytoplasm. In contrast, when tubulin was purified from these oocyte extracts, integral components were lost, and microtubule growth became predominantly bidirectional and was favored at acidic pH. These results indicate that cytoplasmic factors may inhibit bidirectional growth in vivo and that temporal or local changes in cytoplasmic pH may influence microtubule assembly during the cell cycle.