Biophysical Reviews

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 571–581 | Cite as

Overview of the mechanism of cytoskeletal motors based on structure

  • Yusuke Kato
  • Takuya Miyakawa
  • Masaru Tanokura


In the last two decades, a wealth of structural and functional knowledge has been obtained for the three major cytoskeletal motor proteins, myosin, kinesin and dynein, which we review here. The cytoskeletal motor proteins myosin and kinesin are structurally similar in the core architecture of their motor domains and have similar force-producing mechanisms that are coupled with the chemical cycles of ATP binding, hydrolysis, Pi release and subsequent ADP release. The force is generated through conformational changes in the motor domain during Pi release and ATP binding in myosin and kinesin, respectively, and then converted into the rotation of the lever arm or neck linker (referred to as a power stroke) through the common structural pathways. On the other hand, the dynein cytoskeletal motor is an AAA+ protein and has a different structure and power stroke mechanism from those of myosins and kinesins. The linker protruding from the AAA+ ring of dynein swings according to the ATPase states, which, presumably, generates force to carry cargos within a cell. The communication mechanism between the track-binding and ATPase domains of dynein is unique because the two helices that presumably slide with respect to each other work as coordinators for these domains. Details of the mechanism underlying the power stroke and interdomain communication were revealed through recent progress in the structural studies of myosin, kinesin and dynein.


Cytoskeletal motor Myosin Kinesin Dynein Structure Force generation 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Yusuke Kato declares that he has no conflict of interest. Takuya Miyakawa declares that he has no conflict of interest. Masaru Tanokura declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the authors.

Open access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) as well as a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.


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© International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Enzyme ResearchTokushima UniversityTokushimaJapan
  2. 2.Laboratory of Basic Science on Healthy Longevity, Department of Applied Biological Chemistry, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life SciencesThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan

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