- Protein family review
- Open Access
The MAP1 family of microtubule-associated proteins
© BioMed Central Ltd 2006
- Published: 30 June 2006
MAP1-family proteins are classical microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) that bind along the microtubule lattice. The founding members, MAP1A and MAP1B, are predominantly expressed in neurons, where they are thought to be important in the formation and development of axons and dendrites. Mammalian genomes usually contain three family members, MAP1A, MAP1B and a shorter, more recently identified gene called MAP1S. By contrast, only one family member, Futsch, is found in Drosophila. After their initial expression, the MAP1A and MAP1B polypeptides are cleaved into light and heavy chains, which are then assembled into mature complexes together with the separately encoded light chain 3 subunit (LC3). Both MAP1A and MAP1B are well known for their microtubule-stabilizing activity, but MAP1 proteins can also interact with other cellular components, including filamentous actin and signaling proteins. Furthermore, the activity of MAP1A and MAP1B is controlled by upstream signaling mechanisms, including the MAP kinase and glycogen synthase kinase-3 β pathways.
- Light Chain
- Microtubule Bundle
- Giant Axonal Neuropathy
- Mouse Dorsal Root Ganglion
- Mouse Dorsal Root Ganglion Neuron
Various classes of microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) are expressed in eukaryotic cells. Whereas some MAPs bind specifically to the microtubule plus ends or the minus ends (centrosomes), many MAPs bind along the microtubule lattice. The latter category includes both enzymatically active MAPs, such as microtubule motors or the microtubule-severing protein katanin, and structural MAPs such as the MAP2/tau or stable tubule only (STOP) protein families. This article focuses on the classical, microtubule lattice-binding structural MAPs in the MAP1 family, which are best known for their microtubule-stabilizing activity. Most knowledge on MAP1-family proteins has been derived from studies in rodents and, unless noted otherwise, insights from rodents are expected to apply for mammalian family members in general. The MAP2/tau family of classical MAPs is encoded by distinct, apparently unrelated genes and has been reviewed in an earlier issue of Genome Biology .
Chromosomal localizations and exons of human MAP1 and LC3-related proteins
Predicted number of exons
Alternatively spliced exons*
Similar to microtubule-associated proteins 1A/1B light chain 3
Similar to microtubule-associated proteins 1A/1B light chain 3
GABA(A) receptor-associated protein like 1
GABA(A) receptor-associated protein like 2
Similar to H326
Vertebrate MAP1-family genes span multiple exons. Alternative splicing has been reported only in mammalian MAP1B genes ; its functional relevance is unclear. Sequence similarity between distinct MAP1-family proteins in an individual organism is most prominent in the extreme amino and carboxyl termini (approximately 85% similarity at the amino-acid level). Sequences with significant similarities are also found in Drosophila Futsch (approximately 60% similarity to rat MAP1A or MAP1B), but it is not clear from this information whether the Drosophila protein is an ortholog of either MAP1A or MAP1B (Figure 1a).
An accessory protein chain that can be found in MAP1A and MAP1B protein complexes is derived from the LC3 gene encoding MAP1 light chain 3 . LC3 and related proteins do not show significant sequence similarity to MAP1A and MAP1B and are not usually considered to be part of the MAP1 protein family. At least seven distinct LC3-related genes are found in humans (Table 1, Figure 1b), and various orthologs of these genes are found in both highly developed and simpler eukaryotes. LC3-related genes are related to the yeast ubiquitin-like gene AUT7 (ATG8)  and are thought to play a role in autophagy. One LC3-related gene has been predicted in archaea (hypothetical protein ST0261 in Sulfolobus tokodaii). No orthologs of the MAP1 and LC3 families are found in prokaryotes.
The MAP1A, MAP1B and MAP1S polypeptides are each translated as larger proteins that are then processed by proteolytic cleavage near the carboxyl terminus, leading to the generation of heavy chains (MAP1A-HC of 350 kDa, MAP1B-HC of 300 kDa and MAP1S-HC of 100 kDa) and light chains (LC2 of 28 kDa from MAP1A, LC1 of 32 kDa from MAP1B and MAP1S-LC of 26 kDa) [4, 9, 10]. The light chains generated by MAP1A (LC2) and MAP1B (LC1) can interact with both MAP1A and MAP1B heavy chains . For MAP1B, light-chain binding has been mapped to a 120 kDa fragment within the amino terminus of the heavy chain . LC3 can also interact with the MAP1A and MAP1B heavy chains . The exact stoichiometric composition of MAP1A and MAP1B heavy and light chains has not been determined, but in the case of MAP1B, a ratio of MAP1B-HC:LC1:LC3 of 1:2:0.2 has been estimated .
In addition to microtubule-binding activity, the MAP1A, MAP1B and MAP1S light chains can also bind filamentous actin (F-actin) [4, 13, 18]. The microtubule- and F-actin-binding sites on the MAP1A and MAP1B light chains map to different sequence regions. Microtubule binding is confined to the amino terminus of the light chains, and a direct F-actin interaction has been localized to the carboxyl terminus. Furthermore, an exogenous carboxy-terminal fragment of MAP1A and MAP1B light chains colocalized with F-actin in stress fibers of non-neuronal cells [13, 18]. It is yet not known if a single MAP1 unit can bind both cytoskeletons at the same time and thus crosslink the two cytoskeletons.
Structural details about MAP1-family proteins are largely unknown. Both microtubule and F-actin binding have been mapped to regions of about 120 amino acids in the MAP1B light chain, but no further structural details or critical amino-acid residues related to these interactions have been identified. The only structural data available are derived from electron microscopy of preparations treated by the rotary shadowing technique. These studies suggest that MAP1A is a flexible, elongated protein , whereas MAP1B appears to be a rod-shaped, elongated molecule with a terminal, round globular domain . No information about secondary structures in either molecule is available. Moreover, predictions suggest that mammalian MAP1A and MAP1B and Drosophila Futsch are natively unfolded (L.D. and S.H., unpublished observations; predictions were calculated using FoldIndex ). Although over 50% of their entire protein sequences are predicted to be unstructured, some folded regions might exist in the extreme amino termini of the heavy chains.
MAP1 family members and their splice variants have specific regional and temporal expression patterns in the nervous system. MAP1B is highly expressed during early neuronal development and gradually diminishes during maturation . In developing cultured neurons, MAP1B protein is localized to axons, as well as their precursors (so-called 'minor neurites') . Furthermore, MAP1B is especially enriched in growing axons [23, 24]. MAP1A is predominantly expressed in adult neurons, where it localizes preferentially to dendrites . MAP1S is expressed in various tissues including mouse brain .
Functions of MAP1A and MAP1B in the nervous system
MAP1A and MAP1B were originally discovered because of, and were characterized by, their ability to bind and stabilize micro-tubules. Ultrastructural analysis revealed the presence of these MAPs along the sides of microtubules [20, 21]. In vitro studies suggested that the microtubule-stabilizing activity of MAP1B is weaker than that of the distinct neuronal microtubule stabilizer MAP2 . This could be a consequence of factors such as differential phosphorylation or the recently documented inhibition of microtubule-stabilizing activity of MAP1B light chain by its heavy chain . Overexpression of MAP1B in heterologous cell systems induces the formation of micro-tubule bundles with a 'wavy' appearance . In contrast, microtubule bundles induced by MAPs of the MAP2/tau family are straight and rigid [26, 27]. Evidence for direct crosslinking of microtubules by MAP1A and MAP1B is lacking, leaving open a potential role for adapter proteins.
Complete removal of the MAP1B gene results in the absence of the corpus callosum , a brain region mostly composed of axons that cross the midline, suggesting that certain axonal growth mechanisms are disturbed. More recently, enhanced neurite branching and impaired axonal turning behavior were reported in regenerating adult mouse dorsal root ganglion neurons lacking MAP1B . Earlier reports of various knockout lines in which only portions of the MAP1B gene were removed described either more severe [30, 31] or less severe  phenotypes, presumably owing to different genetic backgrounds or different alternatively spliced MAP1B isoforms.
Interestingly, functional redundancy of MAP1B with both MAPs of the MAP2/tau family has been reported [33–35]. Simultaneous inhibition of MAP1B and either MAP2 or tau resulted in more severe phenotypes than single knockouts. Taken together, these experiments suggest a role for MAP1B, tau and MAP2 in both neuronal migration and process outgrowth. Knockout studies of the MAP1A and MAP1S genes have not been reported to date. Other classes of MAPs have functions that at least partially overlap with those of the MAP1 and MAP2/tau families: proteins such as STOP, adenomatous polyposis coli (APC), doublecortin, or spectraplakins might provide additional redundancy in MAP function.
Role of MAP1A and MAP1B as adaptor proteins
Interaction partners of MAP1-family proteins
Proposed function of the interaction
Stabilization of microtubules
Integration of microtubule and F-actin cytoskeletons
Enhancement of Rap1 GTPase activity and cell adhesion
Linking of DISC1 to microtubules; pathogenesis of schizophrenia
Linking of PSD-93 to microtubules
Interaction with and phosphorylation of the MAP1A light chain LC2 in vitro
BKCa potassium channel
Association of the channel with the cytoskeleton
Stabilization of microtubules
Integration of microtubule and F-actin cytoskeletons
Modulation of neurite extension
Enhanced stabilization of microtubules by MAP1B; control of MAP1B light chain degradation; potential role in giant axonal neuropathy
Enhanced MAP1B expression and phosphorylation
Linking of GABA(C) receptors to the cytoskeleton
Interaction with MAP1B mRNA and repression of its translation
Alteration of the stability or folding of ee3
Interference with the LIS1-dynein interaction
Localization of AMPA receptors to synaptic sites
Regulation of the microtubule binding of MAP1A and MAP1B
Transduction of calcium signals
Stabilization of microtubules
Integration of microtubule and F-actin cytoskeletons
Regulation of mitotic progression
Mechanism and regulation
Microtubules exhibit dynamic instability, an intrinsic behavior characterized by alternating phases of growth, shortening and pausing. MAP1A and MAP1B proteins bind along the length of microtubules and are thought to stabilize micro-tubules by altering this dynamic behavior. One study suggests that MAP1B mediates microtubule stabilization specifically by reducing depolymerization rates .
Phosphorylation of MAP1B by glycogen synthase kinase-3 β (GSK3β) has been extensively studied both in vitro and in vivo. Phosphorylation by this kinase has been mapped to two residues, Ser1260 and Thr1265, which are specifically phosphorylated in growing axons . Furthermore, in contrast to the microtubule-stabilizing effect of unphosphorylated MAP1B, GSK3β-phosphorylated MAP1B sensitizes microtubules to depolymerizing agents . Taken together, such experiments lead to the idea that MAP1B's phosphorylation state might regulate microtubule stability in growing axons, and thereby influence axonal growth.
Recent evidence also links the Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway to phosphorylation of MAP1B . Less is known about MAP1A, but a recent study suggests that activity-dependent dendritic remodeling through the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathway is dependent on MAP1A . Very little is known about the mechanism and regulation of MAP1S.
Two decades after their original discovery, many functions of MAP1A and MAP1B have been uncovered in vitro and in vivo. Knockout animals and functional assays suggest specific roles of MAP1 family members in both the development and the degeneration of the nervous system. Structural details of MAP1-family proteins are largely unknown, however, and apparent functional redundancies and crosstalk with other MAPs and cytoskeletal regulators make it difficult to pinpoint the exact function(s) of individual MAPs in vivo. Furthermore, the variety of upstream regulatory pathways and downstream effectors provide a major challenge to fully understanding MAP1A and MAP1B function. Fortunately, certain key pathways controlling MAP1A and MAP1B activity have been identified, although little is yet known about MAP1S. A broader and more precise analysis of phosphorylation and other posttranslational modifications still needs to be carried out, however, in order to fully understand MAP1A and MAP1B function in signaling networks controlling neuromorphogenesis.
This work was supported by grants (to S.H.) from the National Institutes of Health. We thank Eric Hwang and Perihan Nalbant for helpful discussions and critical reading of the manuscript.
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