Microtubule rigidity is important for many cellular functions to support extended structures and rearrange materials within the cell. The arrangement of the tubulin dimers within the microtubule can be altered to affect the protofilament number and the lattice type. Prior electron microscopy measurements have shown that when polymerized in the presence of a high concentration of NaCl, microtubules were more likely to be ten protofilaments with altered intertubulin lattice types. Specifically, such high-salt microtubules have a higher percentage of seam defects. Such seams have long been speculated to be a mechanically weak location in the microtubule lattice, yet no experimental evidence supported this claim. We directly measured the persistence length of freely fluctuating filaments made either with high salt or without. We found that the microtubules made with high salt were more flexible, by a factor of 2, compared to those polymerized the same way without salt present. The reduced persistence length of the high-salt microtubules can be accounted for entirely by a smaller cross-sectional radius of these microtubules, implying that the mixed lattice interactions have little effect on the bending rigidity. Our results suggest that the microtubule seam is not weaker than the typical lattice structure as previously speculated from structural studies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
- Statistics and Probability
- Condensed Matter Physics