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Annu Rev Genet. 2002;36:47-73. Epub 2002 Jun 11.

Genetics of motility and chemotaxis of a fascinating group of bacteria: the spirochetes.

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1
Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cell Biology, Health Sciences Center, West Virginia University, Box 9177, Morgantown, West Virginia 26506-9177, USA. ncharon@hsc.wvu.edu

Abstract

Spirochetes are a medically important and ecologically significant group of motile bacteria with a distinct morphology. Outermost is a membrane sheath, and within this sheath is the protoplasmic cell cylinder and subterminally attached periplasmic flagella. Here we address specific and unique aspects of their motility and chemotaxis. For spirochetes, translational motility requires asymmetrical rotation of the two internally located flagellar bundles. Consequently, they have swimming modalities that are more complex than the well-studied paradigms. In addition, coordinated flagellar rotation likely involves an efficient and novel signaling mechanism. This signal would be transmitted over the length of the cell, which in some cases is over 100-fold greater than the cell diameter. Finally, many spirochetes, including Treponema, Borrelia, and Leptospira, are highly invasive pathogens. Motility is likely to play a major role in the disease process. This review summarizes the progress in the genetics of motility and chemotaxis of spirochetes, and points to new directions for future experimentation.

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