J. Neurochem. (2009) 109, 683–693.
Many studies have shown that microtubules (MTs) interact with MT-associated proteins and motor proteins. These interactions are essential for the formation and maintenance of the polarized morphology of neurons and have been proposed to be regulated in part by highly diverse, unusual post-translational modifications (PTMs) of tubulin, including acetylation, tyrosination, detyrosination, Δ2 modification, polyglutamylation, polyglycylation, palmitoylation, and phosphorylation. However, the precise mechanisms of PTM generation and the properties of modified MTs have been poorly understood until recently. Recent PTM research has uncovered the enzymes mediating tubulin PTMs and provided new insights into the regulation of MT-based functions. The identification of tubulin deacetylase and discovery of its specific inhibitors have paved the way to understand the roles of acetylated MTs in kinesin-mediated axonal transport and neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease. Studies with tubulin tyrosine ligase (TTL)-null mice have shown that tyrosinated MTs are essential in normal brain development. The discovery of TTL-like genes encoding polyglutamylase has led to the finding that polyglutamylated MTs which accumulate during brain development are involved in synapse vesicle transport or neurite outgrowth through interactions with motor proteins or MT-associated proteins, respectively. Here we review current exciting topics that are expected to advance MT research in the nervous system.