Structure of Flagellar Microtubules

Int Rev Cytol. 1991;125:47-93. doi: 10.1016/s0074-7696(08)61216-4.


There is a widely perceived and growing need for a reliable high-resolution three-dimensional structural model of MT. One contributor to this need has been the enormous burst of new information from molecular biological manipulations of tubulin primary sequence and pattern of expression in cells. A second contributor has been the astounding progress in defining the MT-dynein motors of cytoplasmic motility. To interpret this new information in terms of MT assembly and function, we simply must have the structure of tubulin to atomic resolution and know the arrangement of tubulin in MT to an accuracy of better than 1 nm. The best experimental system for understanding the structural basis of MT-dependent motility is the eukaryotic flagellum. Therefore, the MT whose structure we need to know first is the flagellar doublet MT. The most generally accepted specific model for flagellar MT structure was proposed by Amos and Klug in 1974. The impact of their model has been enormous. It has provided the structural framework for thinking about MT function and has influenced the interpretation of a vast body of experimental observation over the intervening 15 years. As a first approximation to the structure of the native MT, in flagellar doublets and cytoplasmic singlets, it has served superbly. Now, we face an accumulation of new information on the nature of the intersubunit bond gleaned from assembly reactions of tubulin, on the nature and probable structure of nontubulin components of flagellar MT, and on the appearance of MT in their native hydrated state. We are compelled by this new evidence to look for the next approximation to the three-dimensional structure of the flagellar doublet MT. This second generation model is not yet formulated in sufficient detail to serve as a replacement for the Amos and Klug model. What we can say at this point is that the new model will be much more complex than the old one, having only axial periodicity in both A and B subfibers rather than full helical symmetry. The model must include at least one tektin filament at the medial (in the flagellum) A-B junction, and perhaps another in a location yet to be determined. It may also include other nontubulin components. The axial period of the MT itself, free of attached cross-bridging structure from the flagellum, must be at least 32.8 nm.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Flagella / ultrastructure*
  • Fourier Analysis
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microtubule Proteins / chemistry
  • Microtubule Proteins / genetics
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure*
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Microtubule Proteins