Microtubules are built of tubulin subunits assembled into hollow cylinders which consist of parallel protofilaments. Thus, motor molecules interacting with a microtubule could do so either with one or several tubulin subunits. This makes it difficult to determine the structural requirements for the interaction. One way to approach the problem is to alter the surface lattice. This can be done in several ways. Proto-filaments can be exposed on their inside (C-tubules or "sheets"), they can be made antiparallel (zinc sheets), or they can be rolled up (duplex tubules). We have exploited this polymorphism to study how the motor protein kinesin attached to a glass surface interacts and moves the various tubulin assemblies. Microtubules glide over the surface along straight paths and with uniform velocities. In the case of C-tubules, approximately 40% glide similarly to microtubules, but a major fraction do not glide at all. This indicates (a) that a full cylindrical closure is not necessary for movement, and (b) that the inside surface of microtubules does not support gliding. With zinc sheets, up to 70% of the polymers move, but the movement is discontinuous, has a reduced speed, and follows along a curved path. Since zinc sheets have protofilaments alternating in orientation and polarity, this result suggests that in principle a single protofilament can produce movement, even when its neighbors cannot. Duplex microtubules do not move because they are covered with protofilaments coiled inside out, thus preventing the interaction with kinesin. The data can be explained by assuming that the outside of one protofilament represents the minimal track for kinesin, but smooth gliding requires several parallel protofilaments. Finally, we followed the motion of kinesin-coated microbeads on sea-urchin sperm flagella, from the flagellar outer doublet microtubules to the singlet microtubule tips extending from the A-tubules. No change in behavior was detected during the transition. This indicates that even if these microtubules differ in surface lattice, this does not affect the motility.

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