- Mitotic kinesin-5 bipolar motor proteins perform essential functions in mitotic spindle dynamics by crosslinking and sliding antiparallel microtubules (MTs) apart within the mitotic spindle. Two recent studies have indicated that single molecules of Cin8, the Saccharomyces cerevisiae kinesin-5 homolog, are minus end-directed when moving on single MTs, yet switch directionality under certain experimental conditions (Gerson-Gurwitz et al., EMBO J 30:4942–4954, 2011; Roostalu et al., Science 332:94–99, 2011). This finding was unexpected since the Cin8 catalytic motor domain is located at the N-terminus of the protein, and such kinesins have been previously thought to be exclusively plus end-directed. In addition, the essential intracellular functions of kinesin-5 motors in separating spindle poles during mitosis can only be accomplished by plus end-directed motility during antiparallel sliding of the spindle MTs. Thus, the mechanism and possible physiological role of the minus end-directed motility of kinesin-5 motors remain unclear. Experimental and theoretical studies from several laboratories in recent years have identified additional kinesin-5 motors that are bidirectional, revealed structural determinants that regulate directionality, examined the possible mechanisms involved and have proposed physiological roles for the minus end-directed motility of kinesin-5 motors. Here, we summarize our current understanding of the remarkable ability of certain kinesin-5 motors to switch directionality when moving along MTs.