We demonstrate that the scanning tunneling microscope can be used to obtain information about arrangement of tubulin subunits in the microtubule wall. Long rows of subunits with a periodicity of 3.8 +/- 0.4 nm were clearly visible in the images of microtubules. The separation between the rows of subunits was 4.8 +/- 0.4 nm. Close inspection of two images revealed another periodicity of 7.8 +/- 0.4 nm in the contour levels of the protofilaments. This indicates that alpha and beta tubulin monomers can be resolved. In these areas the monomers were arranged according to a ‘B-type’ lattice. Scanning tunneling microscope images confirm that the lateral contacts between tubulin monomers in adjacent protofilaments are compatible with a three-start, left-handed helix model. This study demonstrates that scanning tunneling microscopy can give direct information on the structure and organization of macromolecular assemblies and can complement the classical methods of electron microscopy and X-ray scattering.

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