The speed of GTP hydrolysis determines GTP cap size and controls microtubule stability.

Microtubules are cytoskeletal polymers whose function depends on their property to switch between states of growth and shrinkage. Growing microtubules are thought to be stabilized by a GTP cap at their ends. The nature of this cap, however, is still poorly understood. End Binding proteins (EBs) recruit a diverse range of regulators of microtubule function to growing microtubule ends. Whether the EB binding region is identical to the GTP cap is unclear. Using mutated human tubulin with blocked GTP hydrolysis, we demonstrate that EBs bind with high affinity to the GTP conformation of microtubules. Slowing-down GTP hydrolysis leads to extended GTP caps. We find that cap length determines microtubule stability and that the microtubule conformation changes gradually in the cap as GTP is hydrolyzed. These results demonstrate the critical importance of the kinetics of GTP hydrolysis for microtubule stability and establish that the GTP cap coincides with the EB-binding region.