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J Mol Biol. 2007 Jan 26;365(4):1102-16. Epub 2006 Oct 20.

A deletion variant study of the functional role of the Salmonella flagellin hypervariable domain region in motility.

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Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5410, USA.


The eubacterial flagellum is a complex structure with an elongated extracellular filament that is composed primarily of many subunits of a flagellin protein. The highly conserved N and C termini of flagellin are important in its export and self-assembly, whereas the middle sequence region varies greatly in size and composition in different species and is known to be deletion-tolerant. In Salmonella typhimurium phase 1 flagellin, this "hypervariable" region encodes two solvent-exposed domains, D2 and D3, that form a knob-like feature on flagella fibers. The functional role of this structural feature in motility remains unclear. We investigated the structural and physiological role of the hypervariable region in flagella assembly, stability and cellular motility. A library of random internal deletion variants of S. typhimurium flagellin was constructed and screened for functional variants using a swarming agar motility assay. The relative cellular motility and propulsive force of ten representative variants were determined in semi-solid and liquid medium using colony swarming motility assays, video microscopy and optical trapping of single cells. All ten variants exhibited diminished motility, with varying extents of motility observed for internal deletions less than 75 residues and nearly complete loss of motility for deletions greater than 100 residues. The mechanical stability of the variant flagella fibers also decreased with increasing size of deletion. Comparison of the variant sequences with the wild-type sequence and structure indicated that all deletions involved loss of hydrophobic core residues, and removal of both partial and complete segments of secondary structure in the D2 and D3 domains. Homology modeling predicted disruptions of secondary structures in each variant. The hypervariable region D2 and D3 domains appear to stabilize the folded conformation of the flagellin protein and contribute to the mechanical stability and propulsive force of the flagella fibers.

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