The relationship of mutations in α- and β-tubulin to microtubule assembly and anti-mitotic drug resistance

Shanghua Yin, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The mechanisms responsible for anti-cancer drug (including Taxol) treatment failure have not been identified. In cell culture model systems, many β-tubulin, but very few α-tubulin, mutations have been associated with resistance to Taxol. To test what, if any, mutations in α-tubulin can cause resistance, we transfected a randomly mutagenized α-tubulin cDNA into Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells and isolated drug resistant cell lines. A total of 12 mutations were identified in this way and all of them were confirmed to confer Taxol resistance. Furthermore, all cells expressing mutant α-tubulin had less microtubule polymer. Some cells also had abnormal nuclei and enlarged cell bodies. The data indicate that α-tubulin mutations confer Taxol resistance by disrupting microtubule assembly, a mechanism consistent with a large number of previously described β-tubulin mutations. Because α- and β-tubulin are almost identical in their three dimensional structure, we hypothesized that mutations discovered in one subunit, when introduced into the other, would produce similar effects on microtubule assembly and drug resistance. 9 α- and 2 β-tubulin mutations were tested. The results were complex. Some mutations produced similar changes in microtubule assembly and drug resistance irrespective of the subunit in which they were introduced, but others produced opposite effects. Still one mutation produced resistance when present in one subunit, yet had no effect when present on the other; and one mutation that produced Taxol resistance when present in α-tubulin, resulted in assembly-defective tubulin when it was present in β-tubulin. The results suggest that in most cases, the same amino acid modification in α- and β-tubulin affects the microtubule structure and assembly in a similar way. Finally, we tested whether three β-tubulin mutations found in patient tumors could confer resistance to Taxol by recreating the mutations in a β-tubulin cDNA and transfecting it into CHO cells. We found that all three mutations conferred Taxol resistance, but to different extents. Again, microtubule assembly in the transfectants was disrupted, suggesting that mutations in β-tubulin are a potential problem in cancer therapeutics.

Subject Area

Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Yin, Shanghua, "The relationship of mutations in α- and β-tubulin to microtubule assembly and anti-mitotic drug resistance" (2007). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3265290.