Modulation of Kinesin's Load-Bearing Capacity by Force Geometry and the Microtubule Track

Biophys J. 2020 Jan 7;118(1):243-253. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2019.10.045. Epub 2019 Dec 12.


Kinesin motors and their associated microtubule tracks are essential for long-distance transport of cellular cargos. Intracellular activity and proper recruitment of kinesins is regulated by biochemical signaling, cargo adaptors, microtubule-associated proteins, and mechanical forces. In this study, we found that the effect of opposing forces on the kinesin-microtubule attachment duration depends strongly on experimental assay geometry. Using optical tweezers and the conventional single-bead assay, we show that detachment of kinesin from the microtubule is likely accelerated by forces vertical to the long axis of the microtubule due to contact of the single bead with the underlying microtubule. We used the three-bead assay to minimize the vertical force component and found that when the opposing forces are mainly parallel to the microtubule, the median value of attachment durations between kinesin and microtubules can be up to 10-fold longer than observed using the single-bead assay. Using the three-bead assay, we also found that not all microtubule protofilaments are equivalent interacting substrates for kinesin and that the median value of attachment durations of kinesin varies by more than 10-fold, depending on the relative angular position of the forces along the circumference of the microtubule. Thus, depending on the geometry of forces across the microtubule, kinesin can switch from a fast detaching motor (median attachment duration <0.2 s) to a persistent motor that sustains attachment (median attachment duration >3 s) at high forces (5 pN). Our data show that the load-bearing capacity of the kinesin motor is highly variable and can be dramatically affected by off-axis forces and forces across the microtubule lattice, which has implications for a range of cellular activities, including cell division and organelle transport.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Kinesin / metabolism*
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Optical Tweezers*
  • Weight-Bearing


  • Kinesin