Archaeal Flagella


The archaeal flagellum is a unique, ‘tail‐like’ structure used for motility by single‐celled organisms belonging to the domain Archaea. These intricate protein assemblies extend from the cell surface, rotating to generate thrust that propels the organism. Although archaeal flagella are functionally similar to the flagella found on bacteria, they differ significantly in structure and presumed mode of assembly.

Keywords: archaea; flagella; chemotaxis; methanogens; halophiles

Figure 1.

Electron micrographs of (a) a Methanococcus maripaludis cell (approximately 1 μm in diameter) displaying numerous flagellar filaments and (b) purified archaeal flagella from Methanococcus maripaludis (flagella approximately 12 nm in diameter). Arrows indicate hook regions. Courtesy of S.I. Aizawa. Both images were negatively stained with 2% phosphotungstic acid (pH 7.0).

Figure 2.

Illustration of the structure and assembly of the archaeal flagellum. The flagellum is composed of three main components, the filament, hook and anchoring structure. A glycan is sequentially assembled onto a lipid carrier embedded in the cytoplasmic membrane. A preflagellin monomer harbouring an N‐terminal amino acid signal sequence is directed to the site of the flagellum assembly, probably through the action of a chaperone. The signal sequence is removed by the preflagellin peptidase FlaK in concert with the transport of the flagellin across the cytoplasmic membrane. Upon attachment of the N‐glycan to specific asparagine residues, the mature flagellin protein is incorporated at the base of the growing flagellar structure. Reproduced with permission from Jarrell and McBride (2008) The surprisingly diverse ways that prokaryotes move. Nature Reviews Microbiology 6: 466–676. Nature Publishing Group.

Figure 3.

Organization of flagella gene families in selected archaeal species. Similar colours indicate homologues shared among families. Genes are transcribed in the direction of the arrows. In H. salinarum, the B flagellin genes are adjacent to the accessory genes, whereas the A flagellin genes are located elsewhere on the chromosome.



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Further Reading

Metlina AL (2004) Bacterial and archaeal flagella as prokaryotic motility organelles. Biochemistry (Moscow) 69: 1203–1212.

Pohlschroder M, Gimenez MI and Jarrell KF (2005) Protein translocation in Archaea: sec and twin arginine translocation pathways. Current Opinion in Microbiology 8: 713–719.

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Speranskii VV, Metlina AL, Novikova TM and Bakeyeva LY (1996) Disk‐like lamellar structure as part of the archaeal flagellar apparatus. Biophysics 41: 167–173.

Thomas NA, Bardy SL and Jarrell KF (2001) The archaeal flagellum: a different kind of prokaryotic motility structure. FEMS Microbiology Reviews 25: 147–174.

Trachtenberg S, Galkin VE and Egelman EH (2005) Refining the structure of the Halobacterium salinarum flagellar filament using the iterative helical real space reconstruction method: insights into polymorphism. Journal of Molecular Biology 346: 665–676.

Yurist‐Doutsch S, Chaban B, VanDyke DJ, Jarrell KF and Eichler J (2008) Sweet to the extreme: protein glycosylation in Archaea. Molecular Microbiology 68: 1079–1084.

Zhang W, Brooun A, McCandless J, Banda P and Alam M (1996) Signal transduction in the archaeon Halobacterium salinarium is processed through three subfamilies of 13 soluble and membrane‐bound transducer proteins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 93: 4649–4654.

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VanDyke, David J, Ng, Sandy Y M, Chaban, Bonnie, Wu, John, and Jarrell, Ken F(Sep 2008) Archaeal Flagella. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000386.pub2]