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Molecular wear of microtubules propelled by surface-adhered kinesins


Wear is the progressive loss of material from a body caused by contact and relative movement and is a major concern in both engineering and biology1,2,3,4. Advances in nanotechnology have allowed the origins of wear processes to be studied at the atomic and molecular scale, but also demand that wear in nanoscale systems can be predicted and controlled5,6,7. Biomolecular systems can undergo a range of active movements at the nanoscale, which are enabled by the transduction of chemical energy into mechanical work by polymerization processes and motor proteins8. The active movements are accompanied by dissipative processes that can be conceptually understood as ‘protein friction’9,10. Here, we show that wear also occurs in an in vitro system consisting of microtubules gliding across a surface coated with kinesin-1 motor proteins, and that energetic considerations suggest a molecule-by-molecule removal of tubulin proteins. The rates of removal show a complex dependence on sliding velocity and kinesin density, which, in contrast to the friction behaviour between microtubules and kinesin-8, cannot be explained by simple chemical reaction kinetics.

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Figure 1: Length measurements of gliding microtubules.
Figure 2: Microtubule shrinking rates.


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The authors acknowledge financial support from the National Science Foundation (grant CMMI-0926780) and from a Liu Ping fellowship (E.L.P.D.) and thank G. Bachand for providing the kinesin protein. This work was performed, in part, at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, an Office of Science User Facility operated for the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science by Los Alamos National Laboratory (contract DE-AC52-06NA25396) and Sandia National Laboratories (contract DE-AC04-94AL85000).

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E.L.P.D. and H.H. designed and conceived the experiments. E.L.P.D. performed the experiments. E.L.P.D. and C.D. performed the statistical analysis. E.L.P.D. and H.H. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Henry Hess.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Dumont, E., Do, C. & Hess, H. Molecular wear of microtubules propelled by surface-adhered kinesins. Nature Nanotech 10, 166–169 (2015).

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