The stepping mechanism of kinesin can be thought of as a programme of conformational changes. We briefly review protein chemical, electron microscopic and transient kinetic evidence for conformational changes, and working from this evidence, outline a model for the mechanism. In the model, both kinesin heads initially trap Mg.ADP. Microtubule binding releases ADP from one head only (the trailing head). Subsequent ATP binding and hydrolysis by the trailing head progressively accelerate attachment of the leading head, by positioning it closer to its next site. Once attached, the leading head releases its ADP and exerts a sustained pull on the trailing head. The rate of closure of the molecular gate which traps ADP on the trailing head governs its detachment rate. A speculative but crucial coordinating feature is that this rate is strain sensitive, slowing down under negative strain and accelerating under positive strain.

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