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J Bacteriol. 1991 Mar;173(6):2077-85.

Expression of two Rhizobium meliloti flagellin genes and their contribution to the complex filament structure.

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Lehrstuhl f√ľr Genetik, Universit√§t Regensburg, Federal Republic of Germany.


The complex flagellar filaments of Rhizobium meliloti are composed of two related (87% identical) flagellins that are encoded by closely linked, separately transcribed genes, flaA and flaB (E. Pleier and R. Schmitt, J. Bacteriol. 171:1467-1475, 1989). To elucidate the role of the subunits, A and B, in assembling the complex filament, the wild-type alleles were replaced with defective ones containing a 2,249-bp deletion (accompanied by substitution of a kanamycin resistance cartridge), which eliminates 74% of flaA (3' end) and 85% of flaB (5' end). The resulting nonmotile, filamentless mutant, RU11011, was tested for complementation with wild-type flaA, flaB, and flaA flaB genes provided on the multiple-copy vector pRK290. Whereas flaA alone did not restore motility and filament production, both flaB and flaA flaB restored 20 to 30% of wild-type motility. Apparent causes of this reduced motility were fewer flagella per cell and/or shortened filaments sometimes ending in unusually thin, fragile structures. Tests with enzyme-linked antiflagellin antibodies indicated that flaA is expressed at higher levels than flaB and that multiple copies of flaA lead to reduced flagellin export. We conclude that the proximal portion of the complex filament is assembled from B subunits (not produced sufficiently to form full-length flagella) and that the distal portion is made from A subunits. Multiple copies of the strong flaA promoter may offset transcriptional controls that regulate the synthesis of flagellar structures required for flagellin export.

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