Structural Characterization of Tau in Fuzzy Tau:Tubulin Complexes

Structure. 2020 Mar 3;28(3):378-384.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2020.01.004. Epub 2020 Jan 28.


Tau is a neuronal microtubule (MT)-associated protein of significant interest due to its association with several neurodegenerative disorders. Tau's intrinsic disorder and the dynamic nature of its interactions with tubulin and MTs make its structural characterization challenging. Here, we use an environmentally sensitive fluorophore as a site-specific probe of tau bound to soluble tubulin. Comparison of our results with a recently published tau:MT cryoelectron microscopy model reveals structural similarities between tubulin- and MT-bound tau. Analysis of residues across the repeat regions reveals a hierarchy in tubulin occupancy, which may be relevant to tau's ability to differentiate between tubulin and MTs. As binding to soluble tubulin is a critical first step in MT polymerization, our characterization of the structural features of tau in dynamic, fuzzy tau:tubulin assemblies advances our understanding of how tau functions in the cell and how function may be disrupted in disease.

Keywords: acrylodan; fluorescence correlation spectroscopy; intrinsically disordered protein; microtubule; tau; tubulin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Humans
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Polymerization
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Tubulin / metabolism*
  • tau Proteins / chemistry*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • MAPT protein, human
  • Tubulin
  • tau Proteins