Morphology and dynamics of protruding spirochete periplasmic flagella

Academic Article


  • We recently characterized the three-dimensional shape of Treponema phagedenis periplasmic flagella (PFs). In the course of these studies, we observed protrusions on swimming cells that resembled PFs. Here we present a detailed characterization of the shape, structure, and motion of these protrusions. Although protrusion formation occurred primarily in wild-type cells during the stationary phase, a large fraction of exponential-phase cells of cell cylinder helicity mutants (>90% of mutant T-52) had protrusions. These results suggest that cells bearing protrusions can still participate in cell division. T. phagedenis protrusions had the identical helix handedness, pitch, and diameter to those of purified PFs. Protrusions were not present on mutants unable to synthesize PFs, but were present in all motile revertants which regained PFs. These results, taken together with electron microscope observations, suggest that protrusions consist of PFs surrounded by an outer membrane sheath. To analyze protrusion movements, we held cells against a coverglass surface with optical tweezers and observed the motion of protrusions by video-enhanced differential interference contrast light microscopy. Protrusions were found to gyrate in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions, and direct evidence was obtained that protrusions rotate. Protrusions were also observed on Treponema denticola and Borrelia burgdorferi. These were also left-handed and had the same helix handedness, pitch, and diameter as purified PFs from their respective species. The PFs from T. denticola had a helix diameter of 0.26 μm and a helix pitch of 0.78 μm; PFs from B. burgdorferi had a helix diameter of 0.28 μm and a helix pitch of 1.48 μm. Protrusions from these spirochete species had similar structures and motion to those of T. phagedenis. Our results present direct evidence that PFs rotate and support previously proposed models of spirochete motility.
  • Authors

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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Charon NW; Goldstein SF; Block SM; Curci K; Ruby JD; Kreiling JA; Limberger RJ
  • Start Page

  • 832
  • End Page

  • 840
  • Volume

  • 174
  • Issue

  • 3