The tubulin repertoire of C. elegans sensory neurons and its context-dependent role in process outgrowth

Mol Biol Cell. 2016 Sep 21;27(23):3717-3728. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E16-06-0473. Online ahead of print.


Microtubules contribute to many cellular processes, including transport, signaling, and chromosome separation during cell division (Kapitein and Hoogenraad, 2015). They are comprised of αβ-tubulin heterodimers arranged into linear protofilaments and assembled into tubes. Eukaryotes express multiple tubulin isoforms (Gogonea et al., 1999), and there has been a longstanding debate as to whether the isoforms are redundant or perform specialized roles as part of a tubulin code (Fulton and Simpson, 1976). Here, we use the well-characterized touch receptor neurons (TRNs) of Caenorhabditis elegans to investigate this question, through genetic dissection of process outgrowth both in vivo and in vitro With single-cell RNA-seq, we compare transcription profiles for TRNs with those of two other sensory neurons, and present evidence that each sensory neuron expresses a distinct palette of tubulin genes. In the TRNs, we analyze process outgrowth and show that four tubulins (tba-1, tba-2, tbb-1, and tbb-2) function partially or fully redundantly, while two others (mec-7 and mec-12) perform specialized, context-dependent roles. Our findings support a model in which sensory neurons express overlapping subsets of tubulin genes whose functional redundancy varies between cell types and in vivo and in vitro contexts.