The equilibrium between the rat brain tubulin alpha beta dimer and the dissociated alpha and beta monomers has been studied by analytical ultracentrifugation with use of a new method employing short solution columns, allowing rapid equilibration and hence short runs, minimizing tubulin decay. Simultaneous analysis of the equilibrium concentration distributions of three different initial concentrations of tubulin provides clear evidence of a single equilibrium characterized by an association constant, Ka, of 4.9 X 10(6) M-1 (Kd = 2 X 10(-7) M) at 5 degrees, corresponding to a standard free energy change on association delta G degrees = -8.5 kcal mol-1. Colchicine and GDP both stabilize the dimer against dissociation, increasing the Ka values (at 4.5 degrees C) to 20 X 10(6) and 16 X 10(6) M-1, respectively. Temperature dependence of association was examined with multiple three-concentration runs at temperatures from 2 to 30 degrees C. The van't Hoff plot was linear, yielding positive values for the enthalpy and entropy changes on association, delta S degrees = 38.1 +/- 2.4 cal deg-1 mol-1 and delta H degrees = 2.1 +/- 0.7 kcal mol-1, and a small or zero value for the heat capacity change on association, delta C p degrees. The entropically driven association of tubulin monomers is discussed in terms of the suggested importance of hydrophobic interactions to the stability of the monomer association and is compared to the thermodynamics of dimer polymerization.