Skip to main content

Intracellular cargo transport by single-headed kinesin motors


Schimert K.I. , Budaitis B.G. , Reinemann D.N. , Lang M.J. , Verhey K.J. . PNAS. 2019 ; 116(13). 6152-6161


PDF  Link

Kinesin motor proteins that drive intracellular transport share an overall architecture of two motor domain-containing subunits that dimerize through a coiled-coil stalk. Dimerization allows kinesins to be processive motors, taking many steps along the microtubule track before detaching. However, whether dimerization is required for intracellular transport remains unknown. Here, we address this issue using a combination of in vitro and cellular assays to directly compare dimeric motors across the kinesin-1, -2, and -3 families to their minimal monomeric forms. Surprisingly, we find that monomeric motors are able to work in teams to drive peroxisome dispersion in cells. However, peroxisome transport requires minimal force output, and we find that most monomeric motors are unable to disperse the Golgi complex, a high-load cargo. Strikingly, monomeric versions of the kinesin-2 family motors KIF3A and KIF3B are able to drive Golgi dispersion in cells, and teams of monomeric KIF3B motors can generate over 8 pN of force in an optical trap. We find that intracellular transport and force output by monomeric motors, but not dimeric motors, are significantly decreased by the addition of longer and more flexible motor-to-cargo linkers. Together, these results suggest that dimerization of kinesin motors is not required for intracellular transport; however, it enables motor-to-motor coordination and high force generation regardless of motor-to-cargo distance. Dimerization of kinesin motors is thus critical for cellular events that require an ability to generate or withstand high forces.