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J Cell Biol. 1992 September 1; 118(5): 1189–1200.
PMCID: PMC2289587

The alpha subunit of sea urchin sperm outer arm dynein mediates structural and rigor binding to microtubules

Abstract

Glass-adsorbed intact sea urchin outer arm dynein and its beta/IC1 subunit supports movement of microtubules, yet does not form a rigor complex upon depletion of ATP (16). We show here that rigor is a feature of the isolated intact outer arm, and that this property subfractionates with its alpha heavy chain. Intact dynein mediates the formation of ATP-sensitive microtubule bundles, as does the purified alpha heavy chain, indicating that both particles are capable of binding to microtubules in an ATP-sensitive manner. In contrast, the beta/IC1 subunit does not bundle microtubules. Bundles formed with intact dynein are composed of ribbon-like sheets of parallel microtubules that are separated by 54 nm (center-to-center) and display the same longitudinal repeat (24 nm) and cross-sectional geometry of dynein arms as do outer doublets in situ. Bundles formed by the alpha heavy chain are composed of microtubules with a center-to-center spacing of 43 nm and display infrequent, fine crossbridges. In contrast to the bridges formed by the intact arm, the links formed by the alpha subunit are irregularly spaced, suggesting that binding of the alpha heavy chain to the microtubules is not cooperative. Cosedimentation studies showed that: (a) some of the intact dynein binds in an ATP- dependent manner and some binds in an ATP-independent manner; (b) the beta/IC1 subunit does not cosediment with microtubules under any conditions; and (c) the alpha heavy chain cosediments with microtubules in the absence or presence of MgATP2-. These results suggest that the structural binding observed in the intact arm also is a property of its alpha heavy chain. We conclude that whereas force-generation is a function of the beta/IC1 subunit, both structural and ATP-sensitive (rigor) binding of the arm to the microtubule are mediated by the alpha subunit.

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