Catching the Conformational Wave: Measuring the Working Strokes of Protofilaments as They Curl Outward from Disassembling Microtubule Tips

Lucas E. Murray, Haein Kim, Luke M. Rice, Charles L. Asbury

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Optical traps have enabled foundational studies of how mechanoenzymes such as kinesins and dynein motors walk along microtubules, how myosins move along F-actin, and how nucleic acid enzymes move along DNA or RNA. Often the filamentous substrates serve merely as passive tracks for mechanoenzymes but microtubules and F-actin are themselves dynamic protein polymers, capable of generating movement and force independently of conventional motors. Microtubule-driven forces are particularly important during mitosis, when they align duplicated chromosomes at the metaphase plate and then pull them apart during anaphase. These vital movements depend on specialized protein assemblies called kinetochores that couple the chromosomes to the tips of dynamic microtubule filaments, thereby allowing filament shortening to produce pulling forces. Although great strides have been made toward understanding the structures and functions of many kinetochore subcomplexes, the biophysical basis for their coupling to microtubule tips remains unclear. During tip disassembly, strain energy is released when straight protofilaments in the microtubule lattice curl outward, creating a conformational wave that propagates down the microtubule. A popular viewpoint is that the protofilaments as they curl outward hook elements of the kinetochore and tug on them, transferring some of their curvature strain energy to the kinetochore. As a first step toward testing this idea, we recently developed a laser trap assay to directly measure the working strokes generated by curling protofilaments. Our “wave” assay is based on an earlier pioneering study, with improvements that allow measurement of curl-driven movements as functions of force and quantification of their conformational strain energy. In this chapter, we provide a detailed protocol for our assay and describe briefly our instrument setup and data analysis methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMethods in Molecular Biology
PublisherHumana Press Inc.
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NameMethods in Molecular Biology
ISSN (Print)1064-3745
ISSN (Electronic)1940-6029


  • Anaphase
  • Kinetochore
  • Mitotic spindle
  • Ram’s horns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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