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Analysis of flagellum/cilium beating in three dimensions (3D) is important for understanding cell motility, and using fluorescence microscopy to do so would be extremely powerful. Here, high-speed multifocal plane fluorescence microscopy, where the light path is split to visualise multiple focal planes simultaneously, was used to reconstruct Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana movement in 3D. These species are uniflagellate unicellular parasites for which motility is vital. It was possible to use either a fluorescent stain or a genetically-encoded fluorescent protein to visualise flagellum and cell movement at 200Hz frame rates. This addressed two open questions regarding Trypanosoma and Leishmania flagellum beating which contribute to their swimming behaviours: How planar is the L. mexicana flagellum beat and what is the nature of flagellum beating during T. brucei ‘tumbling’? We showed L. mexicana has notable deviations from a planar flagellum beat and that during tumbling the T. brucei flagellum bends the cell and beats only in the distal portion to achieve cell reorientation. This demonstrates high-speed multifocal plane fluorescence microscopy as a powerful tool for the analysis of beating flagella.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Cell Science


The Company of Biologists

Publication Date