Bidirectional cargo transport: moving beyond tug of war

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2014 Sep;15(9):615-28. doi: 10.1038/nrm3853. Epub 2014 Aug 16.


Vesicles, organelles and other intracellular cargo are transported by kinesin and dynein motors, which move in opposite directions along microtubules. This bidirectional cargo movement is frequently described as a 'tug of war' between oppositely directed molecular motors attached to the same cargo. However, although many experimental and modelling studies support the tug-of-war paradigm, numerous knockout and inhibition studies in various systems have found that inhibiting one motor leads to diminished motility in both directions, which is a 'paradox of co-dependence' that challenges the paradigm. In an effort to resolve this paradox, three classes of bidirectional transport models--microtubule tethering, mechanical activation and steric disinhibition--are proposed, and a general mathematical modelling framework for bidirectional cargo transport is put forward to guide future experiments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active / physiology
  • Dyneins / genetics
  • Dyneins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kinesin / genetics
  • Kinesin / metabolism*
  • Microtubules / genetics
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological*


  • Dyneins
  • Kinesin