Staying in shape

A protein called CAMSAP2 helps form and stabilize the microtubules that give cells their shape in highly polarized cells lacking γ-TuRC, the complex that normally performs these roles.

A microtubule-organizing center called Cam2-aster, from which many growing microtubules radiate. Image credit: Ryo Nitta (CC BY 4.0)

Cells are able to hold their shape thanks to tube-like structures called microtubules that are made of hundreds of tubulin proteins. Microtubules are responsible for maintaining the uneven distribution of molecules throughout the cell, a phenomenon known as polarity that allows cells to differentiate into different types with various roles.

A protein complex called the γ-tubulin ring complex (γ-TuRC) is necessary for microtubules to form. This protein helps bind the tubulin proteins together and stabilises microtubules. However, recent research has found that in highly polarized cells such as neurons, which have highly specialised regions, microtubules can form without γ-TuRC. Searching for the proteins that could be filling in for γ-TuRC in these cells some evidence has suggested that a group known as CAMSAPs may be involved, but it is not known how.

To characterize the role of CAMSAPs, Imasaki, Kikkawa et al. studied how one of these proteins, CAMSAP2, interacts with tubulins. To do this, they reconstituted both CAMSAP2 and tubulins using recombinant biotechnology and mixed them in solution. These experiments showed that CAMSAP2 can help form microtubules by bringing together their constituent proteins so that they can bind to each other more easily. Once microtubules start to form, CAMSAP2 continues to bind to them, stabilizing them and enabling them to grow to full size.

These results shed light on how polarity is established in cells such as neurons, muscle cells, and epithelial cells. Additionally, the ability to observe intermediate structures during microtubule formation can provide insights into the processes that these structures are involved in.