Probing intracellular motor protein activity using an inducible cargo trafficking assay

Biophys J. 2010 Oct 6;99(7):2143-52. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2010.07.055.


Although purified cytoskeletal motor proteins have been studied extensively with the use of in vitro approaches, a generic approach to selectively probe actin and microtubule-based motor protein activity inside living cells is lacking. To examine specific motor activity inside living cells, we utilized the FKBP-rapalog-FRB heterodimerization system to develop an in vivo peroxisomal trafficking assay that allows inducible recruitment of exogenous and endogenous kinesin, dynein, and myosin motors to drive specific cargo transport. We demonstrate that cargo rapidly redistributes with distinct dynamics for each respective motor, and that combined (antagonistic) actions of more complex motor combinations can also be probed. Of importance, robust cargo redistribution is readily achieved by one type of motor protein and does not require the presence of opposite-polarity motors. Simultaneous live-cell imaging of microtubules and kinesin or dynein-propelled peroxisomes, combined with high-resolution particle tracking, revealed that peroxisomes frequently pause at microtubule intersections. Titration and washout experiments furthermore revealed that motor recruitment by rapalog-induced heterodimerization is dose-dependent but irreversible. Our assay directly demonstrates that robust cargo motility does not require the presence of opposite-polarity motors, and can therefore be used to characterize the motile properties of specific types of motor proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Assay / methods*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Polarity
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Kymography
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / metabolism*
  • Peroxisomes / metabolism


  • Molecular Motor Proteins