Dynamics of a Protein Chain Motor Driving Helical Bacteria under Stress. Academic Article uri icon


  • The wall-less, helical bacterial genus Spiroplasma has a unique propulsion system; it is not driven by propeller-like flagella but by a membrane-bound, cytoplasmic, linear motor that consists of a contractile chain of identical proteins spanning the entire cell length. By a coordinated spread of conformational changes of the proteins, kinks propagate in pairs along the cell body. However, the mechanisms for the initiation or delay of kinks and their coordinated spread remain unclear. Here, we show how we manipulate the initiation of kinks, their propagation velocities, and the time between two kinks for a single cell trapped in an optical line potential. By interferometric three-dimensional shape tracking, we measured the cells' deformations in response to various external stress situations. We observed a significant dependency of force generation on the cells' local ligand concentrations (likely ATP) and ligand hydrolysis, which we altered in different ways. We developed a mechanistic, mathematical model based on Kramer's rates, describing the subsequent cooperative and conformational switching of the chain's proteins. The model reproduces our experimental observations and can explain deformation characteristics even when the motor is driven to its extreme. Nature has invented a set of minimalistic mechanical driving concepts. To understand or even rebuild them, it is essential to reveal the molecular mechanisms of such protein chain motors, which need only two components-coupled proteins and ligands-to function.

published proceedings

  • Biophys J

author list (cited authors)

  • Roth, J., Koch, M. D., & Rohrbach, A.

complete list of authors

  • Roth, Julian||Koch, Matthias D||Rohrbach, Alexander

publication date

  • January 2018