The subcellular distribution of microtubules containing acetylated alpha-tubulin in mammalian cells in culture was analyzed with 6-11B-1, a monoclonal antibody specific for acetylated alpha-tubulin. Cultures of 3T3, HeLa, and PtK2 cells were grown on coverslips and observed by immunofluorescence microscopy after double-staining by 6-11B-1 and B-5-1-2, a monoclonal antibody specific for all alpha-tubulins. The antibody 6-11B-1 binds to primary cilia, centrioles, mitotic spindles, midbodies, and to subsets of cytoplasmic microtubules in 3T3 and HeLa cells, but not in PtK2 cells. These observations confirm that the acetylation of alpha-tubulin is a modification occurring in different microtubule structures and in a variety of eukaryotic cells. Some features of the acetylation of cytoplasmic microtubules of mammalian cells are also described here. First, acetylated alpha-tubulin is present in microtubules that, under depolymerizing conditions, are more stable than the majority of cytoplasmic microtubules. In addition to the specific microtubule frameworks already mentioned, cytoplasmic microtubules resistant to nocodazole or colchicine, but not cold-resistant microtubules, contain more acetylated alpha-tubulin than the rest of cellular microtubules. Second, the alpha-tubulin in all cytoplasmic microtubules of 3T3 and HeLa cells becomes acetylated in the presence of taxol, a drug that stabilizes microtubules. Third, acetylation and deacetylation of cytoplasmic microtubules are reversible in cells released from exposure to 0 degrees C or antimitotic drugs. Fourth, the epitope recognized by the antibody 6-11B-1 is not absolutely necessary for cell growth and division. This epitope is absent in PtK2 cells. The acetylation of alpha-tubulin could regulate the presence of microtubules in specific intracellular spaces by selective stabilization.