Microtubules pull the strings: disordered sequences as efficient couplers of microtubule-generated force

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Microtubules are dynamic polymers that grow and shrink through addition or loss of tubulin subunits at their ends. Microtubule ends generate mechanical force that moves chromosomes and cellular organelles, and provides mechanical tension. Recent literature describes a number of proteins and protein complexes that couple dynamics of microtubule ends to movements of their cellular cargoes. These 'couplers' are quite diverse in their microtubule-binding domains (MTBDs), while sharing similarity in function, but a systematic understanding of the principles underlying their activity is missing. Here, I review various types of microtubule couplers, focusing on their essential activities: ability to follow microtubule ends and capture microtubule-generated force. Most of the couplers require presence of unstructured positively charged sequences and multivalency in their microtubule-binding sites to efficiently convert the microtubule-generated force into useful connection to a cargo. An overview of the microtubule features supporting end-tracking and force-coupling, and the experimental methods to assess force-coupling properties is also provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-382
Number of pages12
JournalEssays in biochemistry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • force
  • intrinsically disordered proteins
  • kinetochores
  • microtubule


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