Human dynein-dynactin is a fast processive motor in living cells

  1. Biology Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  2. Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


  • Reviewing Editor
    Kassandra Ori-McKenney
    University of California, Davis, United States of America
  • Senior Editor
    Felix Campelo
    Institute of Photonic Sciences, Barcelona, Spain

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

The manuscript by Verma et al. is a simple and concise assessment of the in-cell motility parameters of cytoplasmic dynein. Although numerous studies have focused on understanding the mechanism by which dynein is activated using a complement of in vitro methodologies, an assessment of dynein motility in cells has been lacking. It has been unclear whether dynein exhibits high processivity within the crowded and complicated environment of the cell. For example, does cargo-bound dynein exhibit short, non-processive motility (as has been recently suggested; Tirumala et al., 2022 bioRxiv)? Does cargo-bound dynein move against opposing forces generated by cargo-bound kinesins? Do cargoes exhibit bidirectional switching due to stochastic activation of kinesins and dyneins? The current work addresses these questions quite simply by observing and quantitating the motility of natively tagged dynein in HeLa cells.

The work uses a simple and straightforward approach to address the question at hand: is dynein a processive motor in cells? Using a combination of TIRF and spinning disc confocal microscopy, the authors provide a clear and unambiguous answer to this question.

My only significant concern (which is quite minor) is that the authors focus their analysis on dynein movement in cells treated with docetaxol, which could potentially affect the observed behavior. However, this is likely necessary, as without it, motility would not have been observed due to the 'messiness' of dynein localization in a typical cell (e.g., plus end-tracking in addition to cargo transport).

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

Verma et al. provide a short technical report showing that endogenously tagged dynein and dynactin molecules localize to growing microtubule plus-ends and also move processively along microtubules in cells. The data are convincing, and the imaging and movies very nicely demonstrate their claims. I don't have any large technical concerns about the work. It is perhaps not surprising that dynein-dynactin complexes behave this way in cells due to other reports on the topic, but the current data are among some of the nicest direct demonstrations of this phenomenon. It may be somewhat controversial since a separate group has reported that dynein does not move processively in mammalian cells ( Because of this, it might be nice for the authors to comment on this discrepancy in the field, although the aforementioned work is still in pre-print form.

Using state-of-the-art methods to endogenously tag dynein/dynactin subunits and performing live-cell imaging is convincing and useful for the field.

The claims are perhaps not surprising or novel given the extensive data already published in the field. However, there aren't many similar studies using endogenously tagged subunits to date.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

In this manuscript, Verma et al. set out to visualize cytoplasmic dynein in living cells and describe their behaviour. They first generated heterozygous CRISPR-Cas9 knock-ins of DHC1 and p50 subunit of dynactin and used spinning disk confocal microscopy and TIRF microscopy to visualize these EGFP-tagged molecules. They describe robust localization and movement of DHC and p50 at the plus tips of MTs, which was abrogated using SiR tubulin to visualize the pool of DHC and p50 on the MTs. These DHC and p50 punctae on the MTs showed similar, highly processive movement on MTs. Based on comparison to inducible EGFP-tagged kinesin-1 intensity in Drosophila S2 cells, the authors concluded that the DHC and p50 punctae visualized represented 1 DHC-EGFP dimer+1 untagged DHC dimer and 1 p50-EGFP+3 untagged p50 molecules.

The idea and motivation behind this work are commendable.

There are several major issues with the characterization of the knock-in lines generated, the choice of imaging and analysis methods, and inadequate discussion of prior findings.

The specific points are below:

1. CRISPR-edited HeLa clones:
(i) The authors indicate that both the DHC-EGFP and p50-EGFP lines are heterozygous and that the level of DHC-EGFP was not measured due to technical difficulties. However, quantification of the relative amounts of untagged and tagged DHC needs to be performed - either using Western blot, immunofluorescence or qPCR comparing the parent cell line and the cell lines used in this work.
(ii) The localization of DHC predominantly at the plus tips (Fig. 1A) is at odds with other work where endogenous or close-to-endogenous levels of DHC were visualized in HeLa cells and other non-polarized cells like HEK293, A-431 and U-251MG (e.g.: OpenCell (, Human Protein Atlas (, The authors should perform immunofluorescence of DHC in the parental cells and DHC-EGFP cells to confirm there are no expression artifacts in the latter. Additionally, a comparison of the colocalization of DHC with EB1 in the parental and DHC-EGFP and p50-EGFP lines would be good to confirm MT plus-tip localisation of DHC in both lines.
(iii) It would also be useful to see entire fields of view of cells expressing DHC-EGFP and p50-EGFP (e.g. in Spinning Disk microscopy) to understand if there is heterogeneity in expression. Similarly, it would be useful to report the relative levels of expression of EGFP (by measuring the total intensity of EGFP fluorescence per cell) in those cells employed for the analysis in the manuscript.
(iv) Given that the authors suspect there is differential gene regulation in their CRISPR-edited lines, it cannot be concluded that the DHC-EGFP and p50-EGFP punctae tracked are functional and not piggybacking on untagged proteins. The authors could use the FKBP part of the FKBP-EGFP tag to perform knock-sideways of the DHC and p50 to the plasma membrane and confirm abrogation of dynein activity by visualizing known dynein targets such as the Golgi (Golgi should disperse following recruitment of EGFP-tagged DHC-EGFP or p50-EGFP to the PM), or EGF (movement towards the cell center should cease).

2. TIFRM and analysis:
(i) What was the rationale for using TIRFM given its limitation of visualization at/near the plasma membrane? Are the authors confident they are in TIRF mode and not HILO, which would fit with the representative images shown in the manuscript?
(ii) At what depth are the authors imaging DHC-EGFP and p50-EGFP?
(iii) The authors rely on manual inspection of tracks before analyzing them in kymographs - this is not rigorous and is prone to bias. They should instead track the molecules using single particle tracking tools (eg. TrackMate/uTrack), and use these traces to then quantify the displacement, velocity, and run-time.
(iv) It is unclear how the tracks that were eventually used in the quantification were chosen. Are they representative of the kind of movements seen? Kymographs of dynein movement along an entire MT/cell needs to be shown and all punctae that appear on MTs need to be tracked, and their movement quantified.
(v) What is the directionality of the moving punctae?
(vi) Since all the quantification was performed on SiR tubulin-treated cells, it is unclear if the behavior of dynein observed here reflects the behavior of dynein in untreated cells. Analysis of untreated cells is required.

3. Estimation of stoichiometry of DHC and p50
Given that the punctae of DHC-EGFP and p50 seemingly bleach on MT before the end of the movie, the authors should use photobleaching to estimate the number of molecules in their punctae, either by simple counting the number of bleaching steps or by measuring single-step sizes and estimating the number of molecules from the intensity of punctae in the first frame.

4. Discussion of prior literature
Recent work visualizing the behavior of dyneins in HeLa cells (DOI: 10.1101/2021.04.05.438428), which shows results that do not align with observations in this manuscript, has not been discussed. These contradictory findings need to be discussed, and a more objective assessment of the literature in general needs to be undertaken.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation