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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Apr 3;109(14):5289-93. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1116315109. Epub 2012 Mar 12.

Two independent switches regulate cytoplasmic dynein's processivity and directionality.

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Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg-Strasse 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany.


Cytoplasmic dynein is a microtubule-based molecular motor that participates in a multitude of cell activities, from cell division to organelle transport. Unlike kinesin and myosin, where different tasks are performed by highly specialized members of these superfamilies, a single form of the dynein heavy chain is utilized for different functions. This versatility demands an extensive regulation of motor function. Using an improved application of an optical trap, we were now able to demonstrate that cytoplasmic dynein can generate a discrete power stroke as well as a processive walk in either direction; i.e., towards the plus- or towards the minus-end of a microtubule. Thus, dynein's motor functions can be described by four basic modes of motion: processive and nonprocessive movement, and movement in the forward and reverse directions. Importantly, these four modes of movement can be controlled by two switches. One switch, based on phosphate, determines the directionality of movement. The second switch, depending on magnesium, converts cytoplasmic dynein from a nonprocessive to a processive motor. The two switches can be triggered separately or jointly by changing concentrations of phosphate and magnesium in the local environment. The control of four modes of movement by two switches has major implications for our understanding of the cellular functions and regulation of cytoplasmic dynein. Based on recent studies of dynein's structure we are able to draw new conclusions on cytoplasmic dynein's stepping mechanism.

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