Explaining the Microtubule Energy Balance: Contributions Due to Dipole Moments, Charges, van der Waals and Solvation Energy

A. T. Ayoub, M. Staelens, A. Prunotto, M. A. Deriu, A. Danani, M. Klobukowski, and

J. A. Tuszyński

International Journal of Molecular Sciences 18(10), 2042 (2017)
Microtubules are the main components of mitotic spindles, and are the pillars of the cellular cytoskeleton. They perform most of their cellular functions by virtue of their unique dynamic instability processes which alternate between polymerization and depolymerization phases. This in turn is driven by a precise balance between attraction and repulsion forces between the constituents of microtubules (MTs)—tubulin dimers. Therefore, it is critically important to know what contributions result in a balance of the interaction energy among tubulin dimers that make up microtubules and what interactions may tip this balance toward or away from a stable polymerized state of tubulin. In this paper, we calculate the dipole–dipole interaction energy between tubulin dimers in a microtubule as part of the various contributions to the energy balance. We also compare the remaining contributions to the interaction energies between tubulin dimers and establish a balance between stabilizing and destabilizing components, including the van der Waals, electrostatic, and solvent-accessible surface area energies. The energy balance shows that the GTP-capped tip of the seam at the plus end of microtubules is stabilized only by −9 kcal/mol, which can be completely reversed by the hydrolysis of a single GTP molecule, which releases +14 kcal/mol and destabilizes the seam by an excess of +5 kcal/mol. This triggers the breakdown of microtubules and initiates a disassembly phase which is aptly called a catastrophe.
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