Biophysical challenges to axonal transport: motor-cargo deficiencies and neurodegeneration

Annu Rev Biophys. 2014;43:141-69. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-051013-022746.


Axonal transport is indispensable for the distribution of vesicles, organelles, messenger RNAs (mRNAs), and signaling molecules along the axon. This process is mediated by kinesins and dyneins, molecular motors that bind to cargoes and translocate on microtubule tracks. Tight modulation of motor protein activity is necessary, but little is known about the molecules and mechanisms that regulate transport. Moreover, evidence suggests that transport impairments contribute to the initiation or progression of neurodegenerative diseases, or both, but the mechanisms by which motor activity is affected in disease are unclear. In this review, we discuss some of the physical and biophysical properties that influence motor regulation in healthy neurons. We further discuss the evidence for the role of transport in neurodegeneration, highlighting two pathways that may contribute to transport impairment-dependent disease: genetic mutations or variation, and protein aggregation. Understanding how and when transport parameters change in disease will help delineate molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; amyloid precursor protein; axonal blockages; dynein; kinesin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism*


  • Molecular Motor Proteins