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Microtubules: composition and role in support and transport

Written by Cindy Ma on Feb 13, 2020

Microtubules are hollow tubes composed of tubulin dimers that help the cell transport materials within itself and resist shape changes.

As their name implies, microtubules are small hollow tubes and are the largest and widest element of the cytoskeleton. The walls of the microtubule are made of polymerized dimers of α-tubulin and β-tubulin, two globular proteins. They help the cell resist compression, provide a track along which vesicles move through the cell, and pull replicated chromosomes to opposite ends of a dividing cell. Like microfilaments, microtubules can dissolve and reform quickly.

Microtubules also make up the structural elements of flagella and cilia, which are used to help move the entire cell or substances along the outer surface of the cell.

Key Points

  • Microtubules are made of dimers of the proteins α-tubulin and β-tubulin
  • Microtubules play roles in cell structure maintenance, material transport, whole cell movement, and cell division.

Key Terms

  • cytoskeleton: network of protein fibers that help with cellular movement and maintaining its structure/shape
  • flagellum: a lash-like appendage that protrudes from the cell body of certain prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells that help move the entire cell
  • cilia: short, hair-like structures that are used to move entire cells or substances along the outer surface of the cell
  • microtubule: small tubes made of protein that help cells move material around itself and resist compression


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