Distinct functional roles of β-Tubulin isotypes in microtubule arrays of Tetrahymena thermophila, a model single-celled organism

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: The multi-tubulin hypothesis proposes that each tubulin isotype performs a unique role, or subset of roles, in the universe of microtubule function(s). To test this hypothesis, we are investigating the functions of the recently discovered, noncanonical β-like tubulins (BLTs) of the ciliate, Tetrahymena thermophila. Tetrahymena forms 17 distinct microtubular structures whose assembly had been thought to be based on single α- and β-isotypes. However, completion of the macronuclear genome sequence of Tetrahymena demonstrated that this ciliate possessed a β-tubulin multigene family: two synonymous genes (BTU1 and BTU2) encode the canonical β-tubulin, BTU2, and six genes (BLT1-6) yield five divergent β-tubulin isotypes. In this report, we examine the structural features and functions of two of the BLTs (BLT1 and BLT4) and compare them to those of BTU2.<br /><br />METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: With respect to BTU2, BLT1 and BLT4 had multiple sequence substitutions in their GTP-binding sites, in their interaction surfaces, and in their microtubule-targeting motifs, which together suggest that they have specialized functions. To assess the roles of these tubulins in vivo, we transformed Tetrahymena with expression vectors that direct the synthesis of GFP-tagged versions of the isotypes. We show that GFP-BLT1 and GFP-BLT4 were not detectable in somatic cilia and basal bodies, whereas GFP-BTU2 strongly labeled these structures. During cell division, GFP-BLT1 and GFP-BLT4, but not GFP-BTU2, were incorporated into the microtubule arrays of the macronucleus and into the mitotic apparatus of the micronucleus. GFP-BLT1 also participated in formation of the microtubules of the meiotic apparatus of the micronucleus during conjugation. Partitioning of the isotypes between nuclear and ciliary microtubules was confirmed biochemically.<br /><br />CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: We conclude that Tetrahymena uses a family of distinct β-tubulin isotypes to construct subsets of functionally different microtubules, a result that provides strong support for the multi-tubulin hypothesis.

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Pucciarelli, S., Ballarini, P., Sparvoli, D., Barchetta, S., Yu, T., Detrich, H. W., & Miceli, C. (2012). Distinct functional roles of β-Tubulin isotypes in microtubule arrays of Tetrahymena thermophila, a model single-celled organism. PLoS ONE, 7(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0039694

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