Borrelia burgdorferi periplasmic flagella have both skeletal and motility functions

Mohammed Abdul Motaleb, Linda Corum, James L. Bono, Abdallah F. Elias, Patricia Rosa, D. Scott Samuels, Nyles W. Charon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


Bacterial shape usually is dictated by the peptidoglycan layer of the cell wall. In this paper, we show that the morphology of the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi is the result of a complex interaction between the cell cylinder and the internal periplasmic flagella. B. burgdorferi has a bundle of 7-11 helically shaped periplasmic flagella attached at each end of the cell cylinder and has a flat-wave cell morphology. Backward moving, propagating waves enable these bacteria to swim in both low viscosity media and highly viscous gel-like media. Using targeted mutagenesis, we inactivated the gene encoding the major periplasmic flagellar filament protein FlaB. The resulting flaB mutants not only were nonmotile, but were rod-shaped. Western blot analysis indicated that FlaB was no longer synthesized, and electron microscopy revealed that the mutants were completely deficient in periplasmic flagella. Wild-type cells poisoned with the protonophore carbonyl cyanide-m-chlorophenylhydrazone retained their flat-wave morphology, indicating that the periplasmic flagella do not need to be energized for the cell to maintain this shape. Our results indicate that the periplasmic flagella of B. burgdorferi have a skeletal function. These organelles dynamically interact with the rod-shaped cell cylinder to enable the cell to swim, and to confer in part its flat-wave morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10899-10904
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - Sep 26 2000


  • Allelic exchange
  • Lyme disease
  • Morphology
  • Spirochete


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