Molecular motors and their functions in plants

Int Rev Cytol. 2001;204:97-178. doi: 10.1016/s0074-7696(01)04004-9.


Molecular motors that hydrolyze ATP and use the derived energy to generate force are involved in a variety of diverse cellular functions. Genetic, biochemical, and cellular localization data have implicated motors in a variety of functions such as vesicle and organelle transport, cytoskeleton dynamics, morphogenesis, polarized growth, cell movements, spindle formation, chromosome movement, nuclear fusion, and signal transduction. In non-plant systems three families of molecular motors (kinesins, dyneins, and myosins) have been well characterized. These motors use microtubules (in the case of kinesines and dyneins) or actin filaments (in the case of myosins) as tracks to transport cargo materials intracellularly. During the last decade tremendous progress has been made in understanding the structure and function of various motors in animals. These studies are yielding interesting insights into the functions of molecular motors and the origin of different families of motors. Furthermore, the paradigm that motors bind cargo and move along cytoskeletal tracks does not explain the functions of some of the motors. Relatively little is known about the molecular motors and their roles in plants. In recent years, by using biochemical, cell biological, molecular, and genetic approaches a few molecular motors have been isolated and characterized from plants. These studies indicate that some of the motors in plants have novel features and regulatory mechanisms. The role of molecular motors in plant cell division, cell expansion, cytoplasmic streaming, cell-to-cell communication, membrane trafficking, and morphogenesis is beginning to be understood. Analyses of the Arabidopsis genome sequence database (51% of genome) with conserved motor domains of kinesin and myosin families indicates the presence of a large number (about 40) of molecular motors and the functions of many of these motors remain to be discovered. It is likely that many more motors with novel regulatory mechanisms that perform plant-specific functions are yet to be discovered. Although the identification of motors in plants, especially in Arabidopsis, is progressing at a rapid pace because of the ongoing plant genome sequencing projects, only a few plant motors have been characterized in any detail. Elucidation of function and regulation of this multitude of motors in a given species is going to be a challenging and exciting area of research in plant cell biology. Structural features of some plant motors suggest calcium, through calmodulin, is likely to play a key role in regulating the function of both microtubule- and actin-based motors in plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Actins / physiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / physiology
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / metabolism
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena*
  • Plants


  • Actins
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Molecular Motor Proteins