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J Bacteriol. 2012 Mar;194(6):1299-306. doi: 10.1128/JB.06474-11. Epub 2012 Jan 6.

Three-dimensional structures of pathogenic and saprophytic Leptospira species revealed by cryo-electron tomography.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.


Leptospira interrogans is the primary causative agent of the most widespread zoonotic disease, leptospirosis. An in-depth structural characterization of L. interrogans is needed to understand its biology and pathogenesis. In this study, cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) was used to compare pathogenic and saprophytic species and examine the unique morphological features of this group of bacteria. Specifically, our study revealed a structural difference between the cell envelopes of L. interrogans and Leptospira biflexa involving variations in the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) layer. Through cryo-ET and subvolume averaging, we determined the first three-dimensional (3-D) structure of the flagellar motor of leptospira, with novel features in the flagellar C ring, export apparatus, and stator. Together with direct visualization of chemoreceptor arrays, DNA packing, periplasmic filaments, spherical cytoplasmic bodies, and a unique "cap" at the cell end, this report provides structural insights into these fascinating Leptospira species.

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