Processive movement of single kinesins on crowded microtubules visualized using quantum dots
Kinesin-1 is a processive molecular motor transporting cargo along microtubules. Inside cells, several motors and microtubule-associated proteins compete for binding to microtubules. Therefore, the question arises how processive movement of kinesin-1 is affected by crowding on the microtubule. Here we use total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to image in vitro the runs of single quantum dot-labelled kinesins on crowded microtubules under steady-state conditions and to measure the degree of crowding on a microtubule at steady-state. We find that the runs of kinesins are little affected by high kinesin densities on a microtubule. However, the presence of high densities of a mutant kinesin that is not able to step efficiently reduces the average speed of wild-type kinesin, while hardly changing its processivity. This indicates that kinesin waits in a strongly bound state on the microtubule when encountering an obstacle until the obstacle unbinds and frees the binding site for kinesin's next step. A simple kinetic model can explain quantitatively the behaviour of kinesin under both crowding conditions.