The structure of the microtubule is tightly regulated in cells via a number of microtubule associated proteins and enzymes. Microtubules accumulate structural defects during polymerization, and defect size can further increase under mechanical stresses. Intriguingly, microtubule defects have been shown to be targeted for removal via severing enzymes or self-repair. The cell's control in defect removal suggests that defects can impact microtubule-based processes, including molecular motor-based intracellular transport. We previously demonstrated that microtubule defects influence cargo transport by multiple kinesin motors. However, mechanistic investigations of the observed effects remained challenging, since defects occur randomly during polymerization and are not directly observable in current motility assays. To overcome this challenge, we used end-to-end annealing to generate defects that are directly observable using standard epi-fluorescence microscopy. We demonstrate that the annealed sites recapitulate the effects of polymerization-derived defects on multiple-motor transport, and thus represent a simple and appropriate model for naturally-occurring defects. We found that single kinesins undergo premature dissociation, but not preferential pausing, at the annealed sites. Our findings provide the first mechanistic insight to how defects impact kinesin-based transport. Preferential dissociation on the single-molecule level has the potential to impair cargo delivery at locations of microtubule defect sites in vivo.
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