Microtubules play an essential role in cell division. Little is known about possible variations of total tubulin and tubulin isotype expression during the cell cycle. We analyzed the total tubulin content, tubulin polymerization status and tubulin isotype content in resting and dividing human K562 leukemic cells and human MES-SA sarcoma cells. Although the total cellular tubulin content increases as the cells progress toward mitosis, the total tubulin/total protein ratio is stable during the cell cycle. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction was applied to analyze the levels of expression of alpha, beta, and gamma-tubulin isotypes. Whereas alpha-tubulin isotype and gamma-tubulin transcripts were found to be expressed at constant levels throughout the cell cycle, some of the beta-tubulin isotype transcripts were found to be more highly expressed in dividing then in resting cells. Both of the class IV beta-tubulin isotype transcripts (human 5 beta and beta 2, Class IVa and IVb, respectively) were expressed in dividing K562 and MES-SA cells at twice the levels found in resting cells. Increased expression of the class IV isotype proteins in dividing cells was confirmed by immunoblotting, both in K562 and in MES-SA cells. A larger fraction of total cell tubulin was found to be polymerized in dividing cells (36-40%) than in resting cells (27-30%). The degree of polymerization of class IV tubulin in dividing and resting cells was similar to that of total tubulin. These results show that total tubulin is expressed as constant levels throughout the cell cycle but that the degree of polymerization is increased as cells are committed to division. The relative overexpression of the two class IV beta-tubulin isotypes in dividing cells suggests functional specificity for these isotypes and a regulatory role of these isotypes on the microtubule network during mitosis.