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Eur J Protistol. 2007 Nov;43(4):281-94. Epub 2007 Aug 30.

Ectobiotic spirochetes of flagellates from the termite Mastotermes darwiniensis: attachment and cyst formation.

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Institute of Biology/Zoology, Free University of Berlin, K├Ânigin-Luise-Str 1-3, 14195, Berlin, Germany.


The association of the gut flagellates Mixotricha paradoxa and Deltotrichonympha sp. from the termite Mastotermes darwiniensis with ectobiotic spirochetes and bacterial rods is investigated with light and electron microscopy. Treatment with different chemicals disturbing molecular interactions and use of the freeze-fracture and freeze-etch technique show that hydrophobic interactions and integral membrane proteins seem to be involved in the firm attachment at the contact sites. Application of antibiotics reduces the number of ectobionts and leads to a disintegration of the cortical attachment systems. As a result Mixotricha becomes spherical and immotile. In both flagellates the antibiotics have a further effect: they lead to a transformation of some of the spirochetes into cystic bodies. Cyst formation of ectobiotic spirochetes is here reported for the first time. Starvation has a similar but less dramatic influence than antibiotics. The cysts contain protoplasmic cylinders in the periphery and sometimes larger central bodies. Production of dormant cystic forms may be a survival mechanism under hostile conditions.

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