Most swimming bacteria produce thrust by rotating helical filaments called flagella. Typically, the flagella stick out into the external fluid environment; however, in the spirochetes, a unique group that includes some highly pathogenic species of bacteria, the flagella are internalized, being incased in the periplasmic space; i.e., between the outer membrane and the cell wall. This coupling between the periplasmic flagella and the cell wall allows the flagella to serve a skeletal, as well as a motile, function. In this article, we propose a mathematical model for spirochete morphology based on the elastic interaction between the cell body and the periplasmic flagella. This model describes the mechanics of the composite structure of the cell cylinder and periplasmic flagella and accounts for the morphology of Leptospiraceae. This model predicts that the cell cylinder should be roughly seven times stiffer than the flagellum. In addition, we explore how rotation of the periplasmic flagellum deforms the cell cylinder during motility. We show that the transition between hook-shaped and spiral-shaped ends is purely a consequence of the change in direction of the flagellar motor and does not require flagellar polymorphism.
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