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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e52846. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052846. Epub 2013 Jan 15.

Identification and characterization of a stage specific membrane protein involved in flagellar attachment in Trypanosoma brucei.

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Molecular Parasitology Group, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.


Flagellar attachment is a visibly striking morphological feature of African trypanosomes but little is known about the requirements for attachment at a molecular level. This study characterizes a previously undescribed membrane protein, FLA3, which plays an essential role in flagellar attachment in Trypanosoma brucei. FLA3 is heavily N-glycosylated, locates to the flagellar attachment zone and appears to be a bloodstream stage specific protein. Ablation of the FLA3 mRNA rapidly led to flagellar detachment and a concomitant failure of cytokinesis in the long slender bloodstream form but had no effect on the procyclic form. Flagellar detachment was obvious shortly after induction of the dsRNA and the newly synthesized flagellum was often completely detached after it emerged from the flagellar pocket. Within 12 h most cells possessed detached flagella alongside the existing attached flagellum. These results suggest that proteins involved in attachment are not shared between the new and old attachment zones. In other respects the detached flagella appear normal, they beat rapidly although directional motion was lost, and they possess an apparently normal axoneme and paraflagellar rod structure. The flagellar attachment zone appeared to be disrupted when FLA3 was depleted. Thus, while flagellar attachment is a constitutive feature of the life cycle of trypanosomes, attachment requires stage specific elements at the protein level.

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