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Life's smallest motor, cargo carrier of the cells, moves like a seesaw

Life's smallest motor, a protein that shuttles cargo within cells and helps cells divide, does so by rocking up and down like a seesaw, according to research conducted by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Brandeis University.

The researchers created high-resolution snapshots of a protein motor, called kinesin, as it walked along a microtubule, which are tube-shaped structures that form a cell's "skeleton." The result is the closest look yet at the structural changes kinesin proteins undergo as they ferry molecules within cells.

"We see for the first time how kinesin's atomic-scale moving parts allow it to pull itself and its cargo along a microtubule," says Ken Downing, a biophysicist with Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division. He conducted the research with postdoctoral fellow Charles Sindelar, now at Brandeis University.

"We found that there is a pivot point, where the kinesin motor attaches to the microtubule, which acts like a fulcrum and causes kinesin to rock up and down like a seesaw as it moves along the microtubule," adds Downing.

Their research is reported this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The first-ever glimpse of kinesin's seesaw motion offers key insights into one of life's most fundamental processes. Fueled by an energy-giving compound called ATP, kinesin proteins motor along microtubules like trains on a railroad track, towing cargo to various locations within cells and assisting in cell division. Microtubules are a cylindrical weave of proteins found throughout cells that serve as cellular scaffolding.

Until now, scientists did not have a clear picture of what happens when ATP binds with kinesin, and especially how this process triggers structural changes in kinesin that propel the protein along microtubules.

Extremely high-resolution crystallography images of

Contact: Dan Krotz
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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Life's smallest motor, cargo carrier of the cells, moves like a seesaw
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