Bidirectional sliding of two parallel microtubules generated by multiple identical motors

Jun Allard, Marie Doumic, Alex Mogilner, Dietmar Oelz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is often assumed in biophysical studies that when multiple identical molecular motors interact with two parallel microtubules, the microtubules will be crosslinked and locked together. The aim of this study is to examine this assumption mathematically. We model the forces and movements generated by motors with a time-continuous Markov process and find that, counter-intuitively, a tug-of-war results from opposing actions of identical motors bound to different microtubules. The model shows that many motors bound to the same microtubule generate a great force applied to a smaller number of motors bound to another microtubule, which increases detachment rate for the motors in minority, stabilizing the directional sliding. However, stochastic effects cause occasional changes of the sliding direction, which has a profound effect on the character of the long-term microtubule motility, making it effectively diffusion-like. Here, we estimate the time between the rare events of switching direction and use them to estimate the effective diffusion coefficient for the microtubule pair. Our main result is that parallel microtubules interacting with multiple identical motors are not locked together, but rather slide bidirectionally. We find explicit formulae for the time between directional switching for various motor numbers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-594
Number of pages24
JournalJournal Of Mathematical Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 30 2019


  • Intra-cellular transport
  • Molecular motors
  • Reversal rate
  • Tug-of-war

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Mathematics


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