Tubulin is the major protein component of brain tissue. It normally undergoes a cycle of tyrosination-detyrosination on the carboxy terminus of its alpha-subunit and this results in subpopulations of tyrosinated tubulin and detyrosinated tubulin. Brain tubulin preparations also contain a third major tubulin subpopulation, composed of a non-tyrosinatable variant of tubulin that lacks a carboxy-terminal glutamyl-tyrosine group on its alpha-subunit (delta 2-tubulin). Here, the abundance of delta 2-tubulin in brain tissues, its distribution in developing rat cerebellum and in a variety of cell types have been examined and compared with that of total alpha-tubulin and of tyrosinated and detyrosinated tubulin. Delta 2-tubulin accounts for approximately 35% of brain tubulin. In rat cerebellum, delta 2-tubulin appears early during neuronal differentiation and is detected only in neuronal cells. This apparent neuronal specificity of delta 2-tubulin is confirmed by examination of its distribution in cerebellar cells in primary cultures. In such cultures, neuronal cells are brightly stained with anti-delta 2-tubulin antibody while glial cells are not. Delta 2-tubulin is apparently present in neuronal growth cones. As delta 2-tubulin, detyrosinated tubulin is enriched in neuronal cells, but in contrast with delta 2-tubulin, detyrosinated tubulin is not detectable in Purkinje cells and is apparently excluded from neuronal growth cones. In a variety of cell types such as cultured fibroblasts of primary culture of bovine adrenal cortical cells, delta 2-tubulin is confined to very stable structures such as centrosomes and primary cilia. Treatment of such cells with high doses of taxol leads to the appearance of delta 2-tubulin in microtubule bundles. Delta 2-tubulin also occurs in the paracrystalline bundles of protofilamentous tubulin formed after vinblastine treatment. Delta 2-tubulin is present in sea urchin sperm flagella and it appears in sea urchin embryo cilia during development. Thus, delta 2-tubulin is apparently a marker of very long-lived microtubules. It might represent the final stage of alpha-tubulin maturation in long-lived polymers.