Ciliary microtubules (MTs) are extensively decorated with post-translational modifications (PTMs), such as glutamylation of tubulin tails. PTMs and tubulin isotype diversity act as a “tubulin code” that regulates cytoskeletal stability and the activity of MT-associated proteins such as kinesins. We previously showed that, in C. elegans cilia, the deglutamylase CCPP-1 affects ciliary ultrastructure, localization of the TRP channel PKD-2 and the kinesin-3 KLP-6, and velocity of the kinesin-2 OSM-3/KIF17, whereas a cell-specific α-tubulin isotype regulates ciliary ultrastructure, intraflagellar transport, and ciliary functions of extracellular vesicle (EV)-releasing neurons. Here we examine the role of PTMs and the tubulin code in the ciliary specialization of EV-releasing neurons using genetics, fluorescence microscopy, kymography, electron microscopy, and sensory behavioral assays. Although the C. elegans genome encodes five tubulin tyrosine ligase-like (TTLL) glutamylases, only ttll-11 specifically regulates PKD-2 localization in EV-releasing neurons. In EV-releasing cephalic male (CEM) cilia, TTLL-11 and the deglutamylase CCPP-1 regulate remodeling of 9+0 MT doublets into 18 singlet MTs. Balanced TTLL-11 and CCPP-1 activity fine-tunes glutamylation to control the velocity of the kinesin-2 OSM-3/KIF17 and kinesin-3 KLP-6 without affecting the intraflagellar transport (IFT) kinesin-II. TTLL-11 is transported by ciliary motors. TTLL-11 and CCPP-1 are also required for the ciliary function of releasing bioactive EVs, and TTLL-11 is itself a novel EV cargo. Therefore, MT glutamylation, as part of the tubulin code, controls ciliary specialization, ciliary motor-based transport, and ciliary EV release in a living animal. We suggest that cell-specific control of MT glutamylation may be a conserved mechanism to specialize the form and function of cilia. O'Hagan et al. report that fine-tuning of microtubule glutamylation by the glutamylase TTLL-11 and the deglutamylase CCPP-1 regulates ciliary function by controlling ciliary receptor localization, the velocity of particular kinesin-2 and kinesin-3 motors, and the release of extracellular vesicles and sculpting a specialized axonemal ultrastructure.
- C. elegans
- extracellular vesicles
- intraflagellar transport
- post-translational modifications