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Traffic. 2018 Feb;19(2):111-121. doi: 10.1111/tra.12537. Epub 2017 Dec 5.

Tau directs intracellular trafficking by regulating the forces exerted by kinesin and dynein teams.

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Department of Bioengineering, McGill University, Montréal, Quebec, Canada.
Laboratory of Sensory Neuroscience, The Rockefeller University, New York, New York.
Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont.


Organelles, proteins, and mRNA are transported bidirectionally along microtubules by plus-end directed kinesin and minus-end directed dynein motors. Microtubules are decorated by microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) that organize the cytoskeleton, regulate microtubule dynamics and modulate the interaction between motor proteins and microtubules to direct intracellular transport. Tau is a neuronal MAP that stabilizes axonal microtubules and crosslinks them into bundles. Dysregulation of tau leads to a range of neurodegenerative diseases known as tauopathies including Alzheimer's disease (AD). Tau reduces the processivity of kinesin and dynein by acting as an obstacle on the microtubule. Single-molecule assays indicate that kinesin-1 is more strongly inhibited than kinesin-2 or dynein, suggesting tau might act to spatially modulate the activity of specific motors. To investigate the role of tau in regulating bidirectional transport, we isolated phagosomes driven by kinesin-1, kinesin-2, and dynein and reconstituted their motility along microtubules. We find that tau biases bidirectional motility towards the microtubule minus-end in a dose-dependent manner. Optical trapping measurements show that tau increases the magnitude and frequency of forces exerted by dynein through inhibiting opposing kinesin motors. Mathematical modeling indicates that tau controls the directional bias of intracellular cargoes through differentially tuning the processivity of kinesin-1, kinesin-2, and dynein. Taken together, these results demonstrate that tau modulates motility in a motor-specific manner to direct intracellular transport, and suggests that dysregulation of tau might contribute to neurodegeneration by disrupting the balance of plus- and minus-end directed transport.


dynein; in vitro reconstitution; intracellular transport; kinesin-1; kinesin-2; optical tweezers; tau

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