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Biophys J. 2011 Jun 8;100(11):2548-56. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2011.04.036.

Theoretical and computational investigation of flagellin translocation and bacterial flagellum growth.

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Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA.


The bacterial flagellum is a self-assembling filament, which bacteria use for swimming. It is built from tens of thousands of flagellin monomers in a self-assembly process that involves translocation of the monomers through the flagellar interior, a channel, to the growing tip. Flagellum monomers are pumped into the filament at the base, move unfolded along the channel and then bind to the tip of the filament, thereby extending the growing flagellum. The flagellin translocation process, due to the flagellum maximum length of 20 μm, is an extreme example of protein transport through channels. Here, we derive a model for flagellin transport through the long confining channel, testing the key assumptions of the model through molecular dynamics simulations that also furnish system parameters needed for quantitative description. Together, mathematical model and molecular dynamics simulations explain why the growth rate of flagellar filaments decays exponentially with filament length and why flagellum growth ceases at a certain maximum length.

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