Expression of a minus-end-directed motor protein induces Sf9 cells to form axon-like processes with uniform microtubule polarity orientation

David J. Sharp, Ryoko Kuriyama, Russell Essner, Peter W. Baas

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32 Scopus citations


Neurons extend two types of processes with distinct morphologies and patterns of microtubule polarity orientation. Axons are thin cylindrical processes containing microtubules that are uniformly oriented with their plus-ends-distal to the cell body while dendrites are stout tapering processes that contain nonuniformly oriented microtubules. We have proposed that these distinct microtubule patterns are established by molecular motors that transport microtubules into each type of process with the appropriate orientation. To test the feasibility of this proposal, we have embarked on a series of studies involving the expression of vertebrate motors in insect Sf9 cells. We previously focused on a kinesin-related protein termed CHO1/MKLP1, which localizes to the midzone of the mitotic spindle, and which has been shown to have the appropriate properties to transport microtubules of opposite orientation relative to one another. Expression of a fragment of CHO1/MKLP1 containing its motor domain induces Sf9 cells to extend processes with a stout tapering morphology and a nonuniform microtubule polarity pattern similar to dendrites. Here we focus on a minus-end-directed kinesin-related motor protein termed CHO2, which localizes to the nonoverlapping regions of the mitotic spindle, and which has been shown to have the appropriate properties to transport microtubules with plus-ends-leading. Sf9 cells induced to express a fragment of CHO2 containing its motor domain extend processes with a long cylindrical morphology and a uniformly plus-end-distal microtubule polarity pattern similar to axons. These results show that motor proteins have the capacity to organize distinct patterns of microtubule polarity orientation during process outgrowth, and that these patterns are intimately related to the unique morphological characteristics of the processes. Moreover, mutation of three amino acids corresponding to the ATP binding site necessary for motor function suppresses the capacity of the CHO2 fragment to induce process formation and microtubule reorganization, indicating that at least in the case of CHO2, the transport properties of the motor are essential for it to elicit these effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2373-2380
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of cell science
Issue number19
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997



  • Axon
  • Kinesin
  • Microtubule
  • Mitosis
  • Motor
  • Neuron
  • Spindle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology

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