The kinesin-3 motor KIF1A is in charge of vesicular transport in neuronal axons. Its single-headed form is known to be very inefficient due to the presence of a diffusive state in the mechanochemical cycle. However, recent theoretical studies have suggested that these motors could largely enhance force generation by working in teams. Here we test this prediction by challenging single-headed KIF1A to extract membrane tubes from giant vesicles along microtubule filaments in a minimal in vitro system. Remarkably, not only KIF1A motors are able to extract tubes but they feature a novel phenomenon: tubes are wound around microtubules forming tubular helices. This finding reveals an unforeseen combination of cooperative force generation and self-organized manoeuvreing capability, suggesting that the diffusive state may be a key ingredient for collective motor performance under demanding traffic conditions. Hence, we conclude that KIF1A is a genuinely cooperative motor, possibly explaining its specificity to axonal trafficking.

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Journal Nature Commun.
Oriola, D, Roth, S, Dogterom, M, & Casademunt, J. (2015). Formation of helical membrane tubes around microtubules by single-headed kinesin KIF1A. Nature Commun., 6(Article number: 8025), 1–8. doi:10.1038/ncomms9025