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J Mol Microbiol Biotechnol. 2006;11(3-5):221-7.

The flagellar cytoskeleton of the spirochetes.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT 06030-3505, USA.


The recent discoveries of prokaryotic homologs of all three major eukaryotic cytoskeletal proteins (actin, tubulin, intermediate filaments) have spurred a resurgence of activity in the field of bacterial morphology. In spirochetes, however, it has long been known that the flagellar filaments act as a cytoskeletal protein structure, contributing to their shape and conferring motility on this unique phylum of bacteria. Therefore, revisiting the spirochete cytoskeleton may lead to new paradigms for exploring general features of prokaryotic morphology. This review discusses the role that the periplasmic flagella in spirochetes play in maintaining shape and producing motility. We focus on four species of spirochetes: Borrelia burgdorferi, Treponema denticola, Treponema phagedenis and Leptonema (formerly Leptospira) illini. In spirochetes, the flagella reside in the periplasmic space. Rotation of the flagella in the above species by a flagellar motor induces changes in the cell morphology that drives motility. Mutants that do not produce flagella have a markedly different shape than wild-type cells.

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