Background: Cytoplasmic dynein is the molecular motor responsible for most retrograde microtubule-based vesicular transport. In vitro single-molecule experiments suggest that dynein function is not as robust as that of kinesin-1 or myosin-V because dynein moves only a limited distance (approximately 800 nm) before detaching and can exert a modest (approximately 1 pN) force. However, dynein-driven cargos in vivo move robustly over many microns and exert forces of multiple pN. To determine how to go from limited single-molecule function to robust in vivo transport, we began to build complexity in a controlled manner by using in vitro experiments.
Results: We show that a single cytoplasmic dynein motor frequently transitions into an off-pathway unproductive state that impairs net transport. Addition of a second (and/or third) dynein motor, so that cargos are moved by two (or three) motors rather than one, is sufficient to recover several properties of in vivo motion; such properties include long cargo travels, robust motion, and increased forces. Part of this improvement appears to arise from selective suppression of the unproductive state of dynein rather than from a fundamental change in dynein's mechanochemical cycle.
Conclusions: Multiple dyneins working together suppress shortcomings of a single motor and generate robust motion under in vitro conditions. There appears to be no need for additional cofactors (e.g., dynactin) for this improvement. Because cargos are often driven by multiple dyneins in vivo, our results show that changing the number of dynein motors could allow modulation of dynein function from the mediocre single-dynein limit to robust in vivo-like dynein-driven motion.