The GTP-tubulin cap is widely accepted to protect microtubules against catastrophe. The GTP-cap size is thought to increase with the microtubule growth rate, presumably endowing fast-growing microtubules with enhanced stability. It is unknown what GTP-cap properties permit frequent microtubule catastrophe despite fast growth. Here, we investigate microtubules growing in the presence and absence of the polymerase XMAP215. Using EB1 as a GTP-cap marker, we find that GTP-cap size increases regardless of whether growth acceleration is achieved by increasing tubulin concentration or by XMAP215. Despite increased mean GTP-cap size, microtubules grown with XMAP215 display increased catastrophe frequency, in contrast to microtubules grown with more tubulin, for which catastrophe is abolished. However, microtubules polymerized with XMAP215 have large fluctuations in growth rate; display tapered and curled ends; and undergo catastrophe at faster growth rates and with higher EB1 end-localization. Our results suggest that structural perturbations induced by XMAP215 override the protective effects of the GTP-cap, ultimately driving microtubule catastrophe.

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