Bidirectional transport by molecular motors: enhanced processivity and response to external forces

Biophys J. 2010 Jun 2;98(11):2610-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2010.02.037.


Intracellular transport along cytoskeletal filaments is often mediated by two teams of molecular motors that pull on the same cargo and move in opposite directions along the filaments. We have recently shown theoretically that this bidirectional transport can be understood as a stochastic tug-of-war between the two motor teams. Here, we further develop our theory to investigate the experimentally accessible dynamic behavior of cargos transported by strong motors such as kinesin-1 or cytoplasmic dynein. By studying the run and binding times of such a cargo, we show that the properties of biological motors, such as the large ratio of stall/detachment force and the small ratio of superstall backward/forward velocity, are favorable for bidirectional cargo transport, leading to fast motion and enhanced diffusion. In addition, cargo processivity is shown to be strongly enhanced by transport via several molecular motors even if these motors are engaged in a tug-of-war. Finally, we study the motility of a bidirectional cargo under force. Frictional forces arising, e.g., from the viscous cytoplasm, lead to peaks in the velocity distribution, while external forces as exerted, e.g., by an optical trap, lead to hysteresis effects. Our results, in particular our explicit expressions for the cargo binding time and the distance of the peaks in the velocity relation under friction, are directly accessible to in vitro as well as in vivo experiments.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Cytoplasm / chemistry
  • Cytoplasmic Dyneins / chemistry
  • Diffusion
  • Friction
  • Kinesin / chemistry
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / chemistry*
  • Motion
  • Optical Tweezers
  • Probability
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Torsion, Mechanical
  • Viscosity


  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • Cytoplasmic Dyneins
  • Kinesin