Structure of the alpha beta tubulin dimer by electron crystallography

Nature. 1998 Jan 8;391(6663):199-203. doi: 10.1038/34465.


The alphabeta tubulin heterodimer is the structural subunit of microtubules, which are cytoskeletal elements that are essential for intracellular transport and cell division in all eukaryotes. Each tubulin monomer binds a guanine nucleotide, which is nonexchangeable when it is bound in the alpha subunit, or N site, and exchangeable when bound in the beta subunit, or E site. The alpha- and beta-tubulins share 40% amino-acid sequence identity, both exist in several isotype forms, and both undergo a variety of posttranslational modifications. Limited sequence homology has been found with the proteins FtsZ and Misato, which are involved in cell division in bacteria and Drosophila, respectively. Here we present an atomic model of the alphabeta tubulin dimer fitted to a 3.7-A density map obtained by electron crystallography of zinc-induced tubulin sheets. The structures of alpha- and beta-tubulin are basically identical: each monomer is formed by a core of two beta-sheets surrounded by alpha-helices. The monomer structure is very compact, but can be divided into three functional domains: the amino-terminal domain containing the nucleotide-binding region, an intermediate domain containing the Taxol-binding site, and the carboxy-terminal domain, which probably constitutes the binding surface for motor proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Crystallography
  • Dimerization
  • Electrons
  • Guanosine Triphosphate / chemistry
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Paclitaxel / chemistry
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Swine
  • Tubulin / chemistry*
  • Tubulin / ultrastructure
  • Zinc / chemistry


  • Tubulin
  • Guanosine Triphosphate
  • Zinc
  • Paclitaxel

Associated data

  • PDB/1TUB