The mechanism of action of the antimitotic drug 2,4-dichlorobenzyl thiocyanate (DCBT) has been examined in detail. Shown in previous studies to inhibit tubulin polymerization [Abraham, I., Dion, R. L., Duanmu, C., Gottesman, M. M., & Hamel, E. (1986) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 83, 6839-6843] and to form a covalent bond preferentially with beta-tubulin [Bai, R., Duanmu, C., & Hamel, E. (1989) Biochim. Biophys. Acta 994, 12-20], DCBT has now been documented to interact at low concentrations with a high degree of specificity at cysteine residue 239 of beta-tubulin. These low DCBT concentrations also result in the partial inhibition of tubulin polymerization. Such findings strongly indicate that cysteine-239 of beta-tubulin is essential for microtubule assembly. Although alpha-tubulin is alkylated almost as well as beta-tubulin when the drug:tubulin ratio = 5:1 (Bai et al., 1989), beta-tubulin is alkylated about 25 times as extensively as alpha-tubulin, almost exclusively at Cys-239, when the drug:tubulin ratio = 1:5. In addition, we find that low concentrations of DCBT do not affect the binding of colchicine to tubulin but that colchicine and related compounds do reduce the alkylation of tubulin by DCBT. This suggests that Cys-239 of beta-tubulin is not involved in the binding of colchicine to tubulin but that this amino acid residue is at least partially masked by the drug when it is bound to the protein. We also describe a column chromatography procedure (hydrophobic chromatography on decylagarose) useful for the preparative resolution of unalkylated, although denatured, alpha- and beta-tubulin.