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Myosin molecule walks like a person, experiment shows

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Scientists have developed an extremely accurate imaging technique for looking inside the machinery of a cell and have found that molecules of myosin "walk" in a fashion very much like a human.

"Myosin walks like we walk, but with a 74-nanometer stride that is more than 10 million times smaller than ours," said Paul Selvin, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and corresponding author of a paper to appear in the journal Science, as part of the Science Express Web site, on June 5.

Myosin is a tiny molecular motor that converts chemical energy into mechanical motion. While there are more than a dozen types of myosin (including myosin II the main protein responsible for muscle contractions), Selvin and his collaborators studied myosin V.

"This protein is also responsible for movement," Selvin said, "But not muscular movement. Myosin V is a little cargo transporter in our cells that moves things around by stepping along filaments of actin."

Myosin V is particularly prevalent in nerves. For this reason, mutations in the protein can lead to seizures and other neurological problems. "Like many other biomolecular motors, Myosin V is amazing," Selvin said. "It's tiny, but strong. It can carry more than 1,000 times its own weight."

Myosin V has two "legs" connected to a "body," but exactly how the protein molecule moves its load along helical fibers of actin has been a mystery. "Studies have suggested two main models for movement," Selvin said. "One is the hand-over-hand (or foot-over-foot) 'walking' model in which the two feet alternate in the lead. The other model is the 'inchworm' model in which one foot always leads."

The two models predict significantly different step sizes, Selvin said, but previous imaging techniques have lacked the resolution necessary to measure the step size and determine which model is correct. To measure such minuscule motion, Selvi
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Contact: James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
kloeppel@uiuc.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
5-Jun-2003


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