MCAK is a member of the kinesin-13 family of microtubule (MT)-depolymerizing kinesins. We show that the potent MT depolymerizer MCAK tracks (treadmills) with the tips of polymerizing MTs in living cells. Tip tracking of MCAK is inhibited by phosphorylation and is dependent on the extreme COOH-terminal tail of MCAK. Tip tracking is not essential for MCAK's MT-depolymerizing activity. We propose that tip tracking is a mechanism by which MCAK is preferentially localized to regions of the cell that modulate the plus ends of MTs.
Unlike most kinesins, mitotic centromere–associated kinesin (MCAK) does not translocate along the surface of microtubules (MTs), but instead depolymerizes them. Among the motile kinesins, refinements that are unique for specific cellular functions, such as directionality and processivity, are under the control of a “neck” domain adjacent to the ATP-hydrolyzing motor domain. Despite its apparent lack of motility, MCAK also contains a neck domain. We found that deletions and alanine substitutions of highly conserved positively charged residues in the MCAK neck domain significantly reduced MT depolymerization activity. Furthermore, substitution of MCAK's neck domain with either the positively charged KIF1A K-loop or poly-lysine rescues the loss of MT-depolymerizing activity observed in the neckless MCAK mutant. We propose that the neck, analogously to the K-loop, interacts electrostatically with the tubulin COOH terminus to permit diffusional translocation of MCAK along the surface of MTs. This weak-binding interaction may also play an important role in processivity of MCAK-induced MT depolymerization.