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Flagella are important for eukaryote cell motility, including in sperm, and are vital for life cycle progression of many unicellular eukaryotic pathogens. The “9+2” axoneme in most motile flagella comprises nine outer doublet and two central-pair singlet microtubules. T-shaped radial spokes protrude from the outer doublets towards the central pair and are necessary for effective beating. We asked if there were radial spoke adaptations associated with parasite lineage-specific properties in apicomplexans and trypanosomatids. Following an orthologue search for experimentally uncharacterised radial spoke proteins (RSPs), we identified and analysed RSP9. Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana, have an extensive RSP complement including two divergent RSP9 orthologs, necessary for flagellar beating and swimming. Detailed structural analysis showed that neither ortholog is needed for axoneme assembly in Leishmania. In contrast, Plasmodium has a reduced set of RSPs including a single RSP9 ortholog. deletion of which in Plasmodium berghei leads to failure of axoneme formation, failed male gamete release, greatly reduced fertilisation and inefficient life cycle progression in the mosquito. This indicates contrasting selection pressures on axoneme complexity, likely linked with the different mode of assembly of trypanosomatid versus Plasmodium flagella.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Cell Science


The Company of Biologists

Publication Date