Molecular determinants for α-tubulin methylation by SETD2

J Biol Chem. 2021 Jul;297(1):100898. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2021.100898. Epub 2021 Jun 19.


Post-translational modifications to tubulin are important for many microtubule-based functions inside cells. It was recently shown that methylation of tubulin by the histone methyltransferase SETD2 occurs on mitotic spindle microtubules during cell division, with its absence resulting in mitotic defects. However, the catalytic mechanism of methyl addition to tubulin is unclear. We used a truncated version of human wild type SETD2 (tSETD2) containing the catalytic SET and C-terminal Set2-Rpb1-interacting (SRI) domains to investigate the biochemical mechanism of tubulin methylation. We found that recombinant tSETD2 had a higher activity toward tubulin dimers than polymerized microtubules. Using recombinant single-isotype tubulin, we demonstrated that methylation was restricted to lysine 40 of α-tubulin. We then introduced pathogenic mutations into tSETD2 to probe the recognition of histone and tubulin substrates. A mutation in the catalytic domain (R1625C) allowed tSETD2 to bind to tubulin but not methylate it, whereas a mutation in the SRI domain (R2510H) caused loss of both tubulin binding and methylation. Further investigation of the role of the SRI domain in substrate binding found that mutations within this region had differential effects on the ability of tSETD2 to bind to tubulin versus the binding partner RNA polymerase II for methylating histones in vivo, suggesting distinct mechanisms for tubulin and histone methylation by SETD2. Finally, we found that substrate recognition also requires the negatively charged C-terminal tail of α-tubulin. Together, this study provides a framework for understanding how SETD2 serves as a dual methyltransferase for both histone and tubulin methylation.

Keywords: SETD2; lysine methyltransferase; microtubule; post-translational modification; protein methylation; tubulin; tubulin code.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COS Cells
  • Catalytic Domain*
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / chemistry*
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methylation
  • Mutation
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Tubulin / metabolism*


  • Histones
  • Tubulin
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • SETD2 protein, human