A novel microtubule-associated protein (MAP) of M(r) 115,000 has been identified by screening of a HeLa cell cDNA expression library with an anti-serum raised against microtubule-binding proteins from HeLa cells. Monoclonal and affinity-purified polyclonal antibodies were generated for the further characterization of this MAP. It is different from the microtubule-binding proteins of similar molecular weights, characterized so far, by its nucleotide-insensitive binding to microtubules and different sedimentation behavior. Since it is predominantly expressed in cells of epithelial origin (Caco-2, HeLa, MDCK), and rare (human skin, A72) or not detectable (Vero) in fibroblastic cells, we name it E-MAP-115 (epithelial MAP of 115 kD). In HeLa cells, E-MAP-115 is preferentially associated with subdomains or subsets of perinuclear microtubules. In Caco-2 cells, labeling for E- MAP-115 increases when they polarize and form blisters. The molecular characterization of E-MAP-115 reveals that it is a novel protein with no significant homologies to other known proteins. The secondary structure predicted from its sequence indicates two domains connected by a putative hinge region rich in proline and alanine (PAPA region). E- MAP-115 has two highly charged regions with predicted alpha-helical structure, one basic with a pI of 10.9 in the NH2-terminal domain and one neutral with a pI of 7.6 immediately following the PAPA region in the acidic COOH-terminal half of the molecule. A novel microtubule- binding site has been localized to the basic alpha-helical region in the NH2-terminal domain using in vitro microtubule-binding assays and expression of mutant polypeptides in vivo. Overexpression of this domain of E-MAP-115 by transfection of fibroblasts lacking significant levels of this protein with its cDNA renders microtubules stable to nocodazole. We conclude that E-MAP-115 is a microtubule-stabilizing protein that may play an important role during reorganization of microtubules during polarization and differentiation of epithelial cells.