Dynein and kinesin motor proteins transport cellular cargoes toward opposite ends of microtubule tracks. In neurons, microtubules are abundantly decorated with microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) such as tau. Motor proteins thus encounter MAPs frequently along their path. To determine the effects of tau on dynein and kinesin motility, we conducted single-molecule studies of motor proteins moving along tau-decorated microtubules. Dynein tended to reverse direction, whereas kinesin tended to detach at patches of bound tau. Kinesin was inhibited at about a tenth of the tau concentration that inhibited dynein, and the microtubule-binding domain of tau was sufficient to inhibit motor activity. The differential modulation of dynein and kinesin motility suggests that MAPs can spatially regulate the balance of microtubule-dependent axonal transport.
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