Structure of Tubulin May Lead to New Anti-Cancer Drugs

Release Date:
Alisa Zapp Machalek, NIGMS

Our cells contain an intricate internal skeleton that is used not only for support, but also for cell division and for moving molecules and structures within the cell. Key components of this skeleton are long, hollow structures called microtubules. Because microtubules are essential for cells to grow and divide, they are the target of various drugs, including the widely used anti-cancer drug Taxol.

 A space-filling structure of tubulin A space-filling structure of tubulin. A Taxol-like molecule, shown in red, is bound to the structure.

NIGMS grantee Dr. Kenneth Downing�s group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory determined the detailed, three-dimensional structure of the fundamental unit of microtubules, called tubulin, bound to a Taxol-like molecule. This structure not only will help researchers better understand microtubules and the cellular processes they facilitate, but may also aid efforts to design more effective Taxol-like drugs.


Nogales E, Wolf SG, Downing KH. Structure of the ab tubulin dimer by electron crystallography. Nature 1998;391:199-203.

Reporters may call Alisa Zapp Machalek at (301) 496-7301 to obtain the name of a scientist in the NIGMS Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics who can comment on this work.