Dimeric tubulin, an abundant water-soluble cytosolic protein known primarily for its role in the cytoskeleton, is routinely found to be associated with mitochondrial outer membranes, although the structure and physiological role of mitochondria-bound tubulin are still unknown. There is also no consensus on whether tubulin is a peripheral membrane protein or is integrated into the outer mitochondrial membrane. Here the results of five independent techniques-surface plasmon resonance, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, bilayer overtone analysis, neutron reflectometry, and molecular dynamics simulations-suggest that α-tubulin's amphipathic helix H10 is responsible for peripheral binding of dimeric tubulin to biomimetic "mitochondrial" membranes in a manner that differentiates between the two primary lipid headgroups found in mitochondrial membranes, phosphatidylethanolamine and phosphatidylcholine. The identification of the tubulin dimer orientation and membrane-binding domain represents an essential step toward our understanding of the complex mechanisms by which tubulin interacts with integral proteins of the mitochondrial outer membrane and is important for the structure-inspired design of tubulin-targeting agents.
Keywords: dimeric tubulin; molecular dynamics; neutron reflectometry; peripheral membrane proteins; protein–lipid interactions.