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EMBO J. 2005 Jun 1;24(11):2034-42. Epub 2005 May 5.

Sensing wetness: a new role for the bacterial flagellum.

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Section of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology & Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


We have uncovered a new role for the bacterial flagellum in sensing external wetness. An investigation into why mutants in the chemotaxis signaling pathway of Salmonella typhimurium exhibit fewer and shorter flagella than wild-type when propagated on a surface, first showed that the mutants downregulate only a small set of genes on swarm media--class 3 or 'late' motility genes, and genes associated with the pathogenicity island SPI-1 TTSS (type three secretion system). Based on observations that swarm colonies of the mutants appear less hydrated, we tested a model in which the flagellum itself is a sensor: suboptimal external hydration interferes with secretion of flagellin subunits, inhibiting filament growth and blocking normal export of the class 3 transcription inhibitor FlgM. We provide strong experimental support for the model. In addition, the data show that the flagellar and SPI-1 TTSS are coupled via regulatory proteins. These studies implicate the flagellum, a bacterial organ for motility, in sensing the external environment to modulate not only its own biogenesis but other physiological functions as well.

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