We have determined the lesions in a number of mutant alleles of beta Tub85D, the gene that encodes the testis-specific beta 2-tubulin isoform in Drosophila melanogaster. Mutations responsible for different classes of functional phenotypes are distributed throughout the beta 2-tubulin molecule. There is a telling correlation between the degree of phylogenetic conservation of the altered residues and the number of different microtubule categories disrupted by the lesions. The majority of lesions occur at positions that are evolutionarily highly conserved in all beta-tubulins; these lesions disrupt general functions common to multiple classes of microtubules. However, a single allele B2t6 contains an amino acid substitution within an internal cluster of variable amino acids that has been identified as an isotype-defining domain in vertebrate beta-tubulins. Correspondingly, B2t6 disrupts only a subset of microtubule functions, resulting in misspecification of the morphology of the doublet microtubules of the sperm tail axoneme. We previously demonstrated that beta 3, a developmentally regulated Drosophila beta-tubulin isoform, confers the same restricted morphological phenotype in a dominant way when it is coexpressed in the testis with wild-type beta 2-tubulin. We show here by complementation analysis that beta 3 and the B2t6 product disrupt a common aspect of microtubule assembly. We therefore conclude that the amino acid sequence of the beta 2-tubulin internal variable region is required for generation of correct axoneme morphology but not for general microtubule functions. As we have previously reported, the beta 2-tubulin carboxy terminal isotype-defining domain is required for suprastructural organization of the axoneme. We demonstrate here that the beta 2 variant lacking the carboxy terminus and the B2t6 variant complement each other for mild-to-moderate meiotic defects but do not complement for proper axonemal morphology. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis drawn from comparisons of vertebrate beta-tubulins that the two isotype-defining domains interact in a three-dimensional structure in wild-type beta-tubulins. We propose that the integrity of this structure in the Drosophila testis beta 2-tubulin isoform is required for proper axoneme assembly but not necessarily for general microtubule functions. On the basis of our observations we present a model for regulation of axoneme microtubule morphology as a function of tubulin assembly kinetics.