Probing Mitotic CENP-E Kinesin with the Tethered Cargo Motion Assay and Laser Tweezers

Biophys J. 2018 Jun 5;114(11):2640-2652. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2018.04.017.


Coiled-coil stalks of various kinesins differ significantly in predicted length and structure; this is an adaption that helps these motors carry out their specialized functions. However, little is known about the dynamic stalk configuration in moving motors. To gain insight into the conformational properties of the transporting motors, we developed a theoretical model to predict Brownian motion of a microbead tethered to the tail of a single, freely walking molecule. This approach, which we call the tethered cargo motion (TCM) assay, provides an accurate measure of the mechanical properties of motor-cargo tethering, verified using kinesin-1 conjugated to a microbead via DNA links in vitro. Applying the TCM assay to the mitotic kinesin CENP-E unexpectedly revealed that when walking along a microtubule track, this highly elongated molecule with a contour length of 230 nm formed a 20-nm-long tether. The stalk of a walking CENP-E could not be extended fully by application of sideways force with optical tweezers (up to 4 pN), implying that CENP-E carries its cargo in a compact configuration. Assisting force applied along the microtubule track accelerates CENP-E walking, but this increase does not depend on the presence of the CENP-E stalk. Our results suggest that the unusually large stalk of CENP-E has little role in regulating its function as a transporter. The adjustable stalk configuration may represent a regulatory mechanism for controlling the physical reach between kinetochore-bound CENP-E and spindle microtubules, or it may assist localizing various kinetochore regulators in the immediate vicinity of the kinetochore-embedded microtubule ends. The TCM assay and underlying theoretical framework will provide a general guide for determining the dynamic configurations of various molecular motors moving along their tracks, freely or under force.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Chromosome Segregation
  • Kinesins / metabolism*
  • Mitosis*
  • Movement*
  • Optical Tweezers*


  • Kinesins