The dynein motor performs multiple functions in mitosis by engaging with a wide cargo spectrum. One way to regulate dynein’s cargo-binding selectivity is through the C-terminal domain (CTD) of its light intermediate chain 1 subunit (LIC1), which binds directly with cargo adaptors. Here we show that mitotic phosphorylation of LIC1-CTD at its three cdk1 sites is required for proper mitotic progression, for dynein loading onto prometaphase kinetochores, and for spindle assembly checkpoint inactivation in human cells. Mitotic LIC1-CTD phosphorylation also engages the prolyl isomerase Pin1 predominantly to Hook2-dynein-Nde1-Lis1 complexes, but not to dynein-spindly-dynactin complexes. LIC1-CTD dephosphorylation abrogates dynein-Pin1 binding, promotes prophase centrosome–nuclear envelope detachment, and impairs metaphase chromosome congression and mitotic Golgi fragmentation, without affecting interphase membrane transport. Phosphomutation of a conserved LIC1-CTD SP site in zebrafish leads to early developmental defects. Our work reveals that LIC1-CTD phosphorylation differentially regulates distinct mitotic dynein pools and suggests the evolutionary conservation of this phosphoregulation.

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