The existence of structural intermediates in the processes of microtubule assembly and disassembly, and their relationship with the nucleotide state of tubulin, have been the subject of significant study and recent controversy. The first part of this chapter describes experiments and methods designed to characterize, using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and image analysis, the structure of stabilized tubulin assemblies that we propose mimic the growth and shortening states at microtubule ends. We further put forward the idea that these intermediates have important biological functions, especially during cellular processes where the dynamic character of microtubules is essential. One such process is the attachment of spindle microtubules to kinetochores in eukaryotic cell division. The second part of this chapter is consequently dedicated to studies of the yeast Dam 1 kinetochore complex and its interaction with microtubules. This complex is essential for accurate chromosome segregation and is an important target of the Aurora B spindle check-point kinase. The Dam 1 complex self-assembles in a microtubule-dependent manner into rings and spirals. The rings are able to track microtubule-depolymerizing ends against a load and in a highly processive manner, an essential property for their function in vivo. We describe the experimental in vitro protocols to produce biologically relevant self-assembled structures of Dam 1 around microtubules and their structural characterization by cryo-EM.
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