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Biophys J. 2010 Nov 3;99(9):2967-77. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2010.08.025.

Two kinesins transport cargo primarily via the action of one motor: implications for intracellular transport.

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Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA.


The number of microtubule motors attached to vesicles, organelles, and other subcellular commodities is widely believed to influence their motile properties. There is also evidence that cells regulate intracellular transport by tuning the number and/or ratio of motor types on cargos. Yet, the number of motors responsible for cargo motion is not easily characterized, and the extent to which motor copy number affects intracellular transport remains controversial. Here, we examined the load-dependent properties of structurally defined motor assemblies composed of two kinesin-1 molecules. We found that a group of kinesins can produce forces and move with velocities beyond the abilities of single kinesin molecules. However, such capabilities are not typically harnessed by the system. Instead, two-kinesin assemblies adopt a range of microtubule-bound configurations while transporting cargos against an applied load. The binding arrangement of motors on their filament dictates how loads are distributed within the two-motor system, which in turn influences motor-microtubule affinities. Most configurations promote microtubule detachment and prevent both kinesins from contributing to force production. These results imply that cargos will tend to be carried by only a fraction of the total number of kinesins that are available for transport at any given time, and provide an alternative explanation for observations that intracellular transport depends weakly on kinesin number in vivo.

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