Diverse cellular processes require microtubules to be organized into distinct structures, such as asters or bundles. Within these dynamic motifs, microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) are frequently under load, but how force modulates these proteins' function is poorly understood. Here, we combine optical trapping with TIRF-based microscopy to measure the force dependence of microtubule interaction for three nonmotor MAPs (NuMA, PRC1, and EB1) required for cell division. We find that frictional forces increase nonlinearly with MAP velocity across microtubules and depend on filament polarity, with NuMA's friction being lower when moving toward minus ends, EB1's lower toward plus ends, and PRC1's exhibiting no directional preference. Mathematical models predict, and experiments confirm, that MAPs with asymmetric friction can move directionally within actively moving microtubule pairs they crosslink. Our findings reveal how nonmotor MAPs can generate frictional resistance in dynamic cytoskeletal networks via micromechanical adaptations whose anisotropy may be optimized for MAP localization and function within cellular structures.
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