The unique paradigm of spirochete motility and chemotaxis

Nyles W. Charon, Andrew Cockburn, Chunhao Li, Jun Liu, Kelly A. Miller, Michael R. Miller, Md A. Motaleb, Charles W. Wolgemuth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Spirochete motility is enigmatic: It differs from the motility of most other bacteria in that the entire bacterium is involved in translocation in the absence of external appendages. Using the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb) as a model system, we explore the current research on spirochete motility and chemotaxis. Bb has periplasmic flagella (PFs) subterminally attached to each end of the protoplasmic cell cylinder, and surrounding the cell is an outer membrane. These internal helix-shaped PFs allow the spirochete to swim by generating backward-moving waves by rotation. Exciting advances using cryoelectron tomography are presented with respect to in situ analysis of cell, PF, and motor structure. In addition, advances in the dynamics of motility, chemotaxis, gene regulation, and the role of motility and chemotaxis in the life cycle of Bb are summarized. The results indicate that the motility paradigms of flagellated bacteria do not apply to these unique bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-370
Number of pages22
JournalAnnual review of microbiology
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Borrelia
  • Lyme disease
  • flagella
  • motor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology


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