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Single kinesin molecules studied with a molecular force clamp


Kinesin is a two-headed, ATP-driven motor protein that moves processively along microtubules in discrete steps of 8 nm, probably by advancing each of its heads alternately in sequence1,2,3,4. Molecular details of how the chemical energy stored in ATP is coupled to mechanical displacement remain obscure. To shed light on this question, a force clamp was constructed, based on a feedback-driven optical trap capable of maintaining constant loads on single kinesin motors5. The instrument provides unprecedented resolution of molecular motion and permits mechanochemical studies under controlled external loads. Analysis of records of kinesin motion under variable ATP concentrations and loads revealed several new features. First, kinesin stepping appears to be tightly coupled to ATP hydrolysis over a wide range of forces, with a single hydrolysis per 8-nm mechanical advance. Second, the kinesin stall force depends on the ATP concentration. Third, increased loads reduce the maximum velocity as expected, but also raise the apparent Michaelis–Menten constant. The kinesin cycle therefore contains at least one load-dependent transition affecting the rate at which ATP molecules bind and subsequently commit to hydrolysis. It is likely that at least one other load-dependent rate exists, affecting turnover number. Together, these findings will necessitate revisions to our understanding of how kinesin motors function.

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Figure 1: Operation of the force clamp.
Figure 2: Michaelis–Menten kinetics under load.
Figure 3: Load dependence of motility.
Figure 4: Displacement fluctuations.


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We thank Y. Inoue, M. Nishiyama, L. Satterwhite and M. Wang for discussions; J. de Georgis for squid dissection; and D. Peoples for machining. This work was supported by grants to S.M.B. from the NIGMS, NSF and W. M. Keck Foundation, predoctoral fellowships to M.J.S. to the American Heart Association, the Charlotte Elizabeth Proctor Fund, and the Program in Mathematics and Molecular Biology Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and a postdoctoral fellowship to K.V. from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund of the Life Sciences Research Foundation.

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Correspondence to Mark J. Schnitzer.

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Visscher, K., Schnitzer, M. & Block, S. Single kinesin molecules studied with a molecular force clamp. Nature 400, 184–189 (1999).

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