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FEBS Lett. 1984 Jun 4;171(1):145-8.

Domain structure of flagellin.


The chemotaxis of bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli involves smooth swimming punctuated by periods of tumbling. In smooth swimming the flagellar filaments are left-handed, in tumbling they are right-handed with a different wavelength. The filaments are constructed from a globular protein, flagellin, by a process of self-assembly. The existing models assume that the flagellin molecule is bistable and longitudinal rows of subunits take one of the two possible conformations. Such a model explains the observed different morphology of the flagellum. We have studied Salmonella and E. coli flagellins in polymeric and monomeric forms by scanning microcalorimetry and circular dichroism. We have inferred that a flagellin molecule consists of several domains, two of which are structured at physiological temperatures and are in the monomeric form, while the others acquire a regular form only in the process of polymerization. This phenomenon may be the basis of a process during which the flagellin molecule, fitting into the flagellum, acquires a conformation analogous to that of the neighbouring molecule in the longitudinal row.

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