Cargo navigation across 3D microtubule intersections

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jan 16;115(3):537-542. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1707936115. Epub 2018 Jan 2.


The eukaryotic cell's microtubule cytoskeleton is a complex 3D filament network. Microtubules cross at a wide variety of separation distances and angles. Prior studies in vivo and in vitro suggest that cargo transport is affected by intersection geometry. However, geometric complexity is not yet widely appreciated as a regulatory factor in its own right, and mechanisms that underlie this mode of regulation are not well understood. We have used our recently reported 3D microtubule manipulation system to build filament crossings de novo in a purified in vitro environment and used them to assay kinesin-1-driven model cargo navigation. We found that 3D microtubule network geometry indeed significantly influences cargo routing, and in particular that it is possible to bias a cargo to pass or switch just by changing either filament spacing or angle. Furthermore, we captured our experimental results in a model which accounts for full 3D geometry, stochastic motion of the cargo and associated motors, as well as motor force production and force-dependent behavior. We used a combination of experimental and theoretical analysis to establish the detailed mechanisms underlying cargo navigation at microtubule crossings.

Keywords: biophysics; cytoskeletal transport; kinesin; microtubules; network.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Kinesins / chemistry
  • Kinesins / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Microtubules / chemistry*
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Protein Binding


  • KIF5A protein, human
  • Kinesins