The single flagellum of Leishmania has a fixed polarisation of its asymmetric beat.
Wang Z., Beneke T., Gluenz E., Wheeler RJ.
Eukaryotic flagella undertake different beat types as necessary for different functions; for example, the Leishmania parasite flagellum undergoes a symmetric tip-to-base beat for forward swimming and an asymmetric base-to-tip beat to rotate the cell. In multi-ciliated tissues or organisms, the asymmetric beats are coordinated, leading to movement of the cell, organism or surrounding fluid. This coordination involves a polarisation of power stroke direction. Here, we asked whether the asymmetric beat of the single Leishmania flagellum also has a fixed polarisation. We developed high frame rate dual-colour fluorescence microscopy to visualise flagellar-associated structures in live swimming cells. This showed that the asymmetric Leishmania beat is polarised, with power strokes only occurring in one direction relative to the asymmetric flagellar machinery. Polarisation of bending was retained in deletion mutants whose flagella cannot beat but have a static bend. Furthermore, deletion mutants for proteins required for asymmetric extra-axonemal and rootlet-like flagellum-associated structures also retained normal polarisation. Leishmania beat polarisation therefore likely arises from either the nine-fold rotational symmetry of the axoneme structure or is due to differences between the outer doublet decorations.