The microtubule cytoskeleton is a dynamic structure in which the lengths of the microtubules are tightly regulated. One regulatory mechanism is the depolymerization of microtubules by motor proteins in the kinesin-13 family. These proteins are crucial for the control of microtubule length in cell division, neuronal development and interphase microtubule dynamics. The mechanism by which kinesin-13 proteins depolymerize microtubules is poorly understood. A central question is how these proteins target to microtubule ends at rates exceeding those of standard enzyme-substrate kinetics. To address this question we developed a single-molecule microscopy assay for MCAK, the founding member of the kinesin-13 family. Here we show that MCAK moves along the microtubule lattice in a one-dimensional (1D) random walk. MCAK-microtubule interactions were transient: the average MCAK molecule diffused for 0.83 s with a diffusion coefficient of 0.38 microm2 s(-1). Although the catalytic depolymerization by MCAK requires the hydrolysis of ATP, we found that the diffusion did not. The transient transition from three-dimensional diffusion to 1D diffusion corresponds to a "reduction in dimensionality" that has been proposed as the search strategy by which DNA enzymes find specific binding sites. We show that MCAK uses this strategy to target to both microtubule ends more rapidly than direct binding from solution.