Go to the About Us section
Go to the Courses section
Go to the Research section
Go to the Specialist Services & Consultancy section
Go to the Outreach section
Go to the New Students section
You can find details about all the staff in the department below.
return to full list
Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Cell biology of trypanosomes
Intraflagellar transport (IFT) is the rapid bidirectional movement of large protein complexes driven by kinesin and dynein motors along microtubule doublets of cilia and flagella. In this study, we used a combination of high-resolution electron and light microscopy to investigate how and where these IFT trains move within the flagellum of the protist Trypanosoma brucei. Focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) analysis of trypanosomes showed that trains are found almost exclusively along two sets of doublets (3–4 and 7–8) and distribute in two categories according to their length. High-resolution live imaging of cells expressing mNeonGreen::IFT81 or GFP::IFT52 revealed for the first time IFT trafficking on two parallel lines within the flagellum. Anterograde and retrograde IFT occurs on each of these lines. At the distal end, a large individual anterograde IFT train is converted in several smaller retrograde trains in the space of 3–4 s while remaining on the same side of the axoneme.
Proteins of the FGR1 oncogene partner (or FOP) family are found at microtubule organizing centres (MTOCs) including, in flagellate eukaryotes, the centriole or flagellar basal body from which the axoneme extends. We report conservation of FOP family proteins, TbFOPL and TbOFD1, in the evolutionarily divergent sleeping sickness parasite Trypanosoma brucei, showing (in contrast with mammalian cells, where FOP is essential for flagellum assembly) depletion of a trypanosome FOP homologue, TbFOPL, affects neither axoneme nor flagellum elongation. Instead, TbFOPL depletion causes catastrophic failure in assembly of a lineage-specific, extra-axonemal structure, the paraflagellar rod (PFR). That depletion of centriolar TbFOPL causes failure in PFR assembly is surprising because PFR nucleation commences approximately 2 µm distal from the basal body. When over-expressed with a C-terminal myc-epitope, TbFOPL was also observed at mitotic spindle poles. Little is known about bi-polar spindle assembly during closed trypanosome mitosis, but indication of a possible additional MTOC function for TbFOPL parallels MTOC localization of FOP-like protein TONNEAU1 in acentriolar plants. More generally, our functional analysis of TbFOPL emphasizes significant differences in evolutionary cell biology trajectories of FOP-family proteins. We discuss how at the molecular level FOP homologues may contribute to flagellum assembly and function in diverse flagellates.
One of the major drawbacks in transmission electron microscopy has been the production of three-dimensional views of cells and tissues. Currently, there is no one suitable 3D microscopy technique that answers all questions and serial block face scanning electron microscopy (SEM) fills the gap between 3D imaging using high-end fluorescence microscopy and the high resolution offered by electron tomography. In this review, we discuss the potential of the serial block face SEM technique for studying the three-dimensional organisation of animal, plant and microbial cells.
TBCCD1 is an enigmatic member of the tubulin-binding cofactor C (TBCC) family of proteins required for mother-daughter centriole linkage in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and nucleus-centrosome-Golgi linkage in mammalian cells. Loss of these linkages has severe morphogenetic consequences, but the mechanism(s) through which TBCCD1 contributes to cell organisation is unknown. In the African sleeping sickness parasite Trypanosoma brucei a microtubule-dominant cytoskeleton dictates cell shape, influencing strongly the positioning and inheritance patterns of key intracellular organelles. Here, we show the trypanosome orthologue of TBCCD1 is found at multiple locations: centrioles, the centriole-associated Golgi 'bi-lobe', and the anterior end of the cell body. Loss of Trypanosoma brucei TBCCD1 results in disorganisation of the structurally complex bi-lobe architecture and loss of centriole linkage to the single unit-copy mitochondrial genome (or kinetoplast) of the parasite. We therefore identify TBCCD1 as an essential protein associated with at least two filament-based structures in the trypanosome cytoskeleton. The last common ancestor of trypanosomes, animals and green algae was arguably the last common ancestor of all eukaryotes. On the basis of our observations, and interpretation of published data, we argue for an unexpected co-option of the TBCC domain for an essential non-tubulin-related function at an early point during evolution of the eukaryotic cytoskeleton.
Flagella are highly conserved organelles present in a wide variety of species. In Trypanosoma brucei the single flagellum is necessary for morphogenesis, cell motility and pathogenesis, and is attached along the cell body. A new flagellum is formed alongside the old during the cell division cycle. In the (insect) procyclic form, the flagella connector (FC) attaches the tip of the new flagellum to the side of the old flagellum, ensuring faithful replication of cell architecture. The FC is not present in the bloodstream form of the parasite. We show here, using new imaging techniques including serial block-face scanning electron microscopy (SBF-SEM), that the distal tip of the new flagellum in the bloodstream form is embedded within an invagination in the cell body plasma membrane, named the groove. We suggest that the groove has a similar function to the flagella connector. The groove is a mobile junction located alongside the microtubule quartet (MtQ) and occurred within a gap in the subpellicular microtubule corset, causing significant modification of microtubules during elongation of the new flagellum. It appears likely that this novel form of morphogenetic structure has evolved to withstand the hostile immune response in the mammalian blood.
Trypanosomes use a microtubule-focused mechanism for cell morphogenesis and cytokinesis. We used scanning electron and video microscopy of living cells to provide the first detailed description of cell morphogenesis and cytokinesis in the early-branching eukaryote Trypanosoma brucei. We outline four distinct stages of cytokinesis and show that an asymmetric division fold bisects the two daughter cells, with a cytoplasmic bridge-like structure connecting the two daughters immediately prior to abscission. Using detection of tyrosinated α-tubulin as a marker for new or growing microtubules and expression of XMAP215, a plus end binding protein, as a marker for microtubule plus ends we demonstrate spatial asymmetry in the underlying microtubule cytoskeleton throughout the cell division cycle. This leads to inheritance of different microtubule cytoskeletal patterns and demonstrates the major role of microtubules in achieving cytokinesis. RNA interference techniques have led to a large set of mutants, often with variations in phenotype between procyclic and bloodstream life cycle forms. Here, we show morphogenetic differences between these two life cycle forms of this parasite during new flagellum growth and cytokinesis. These discoveries are important tools to explain differences between bloodstream and procyclic form RNAi phenotypes involving organelle mis-positioning during cell division and cytokinesis defects.
Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is secreted into the interstitial spaces by adipocytes and myocytes but then must be transported to the capillary lumen by GPIHBP1, a glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored protein of capillary endothelial cells. The mechanism by which GPIHBP1 and LPL move across endothelial cells remains unclear. We asked whether the transport of GPIHBP1 and LPL across endothelial cells was uni- or bidirectional. We also asked whether GPIHBP1 and LPL are transported across cells in vesicles and whether this transport process requires caveolin-1. The movement of GPIHBP1 and LPL across cultured endothelial cells was bidirectional. Also, GPIHBP1 moved bidirectionally across capillary endothelial cells in live mice. The transport of LPL across endothelial cells was inhibited by dynasore and genistein, consistent with a vesicular transport process. Also, transmission electron microscopy (EM) and dual-axis EM tomography revealed GPIHBP1 and LPL in invaginations of the plasma membrane and in vesicles. The movement of GPIHBP1 across capillary endothelial cells was efficient in the absence of caveolin-1, and there was no defect in the internalization of LPL by caveolin-1-deficient endothelial cells in culture. Our studies show that GPIHBP1 and LPL move bidirectionally across endothelial cells in vesicles and that transport is efficient even when caveolin-1 is absent.
Trypanosomes and Leishmanias are important human parasites whose cellular architecture is centred on the single flagellum. In trypanosomes, this flagellum is attached to the cell along a complex flagellum attachment zone (FAZ), comprising flagellar and cytoplasmic components, the integrity of which is required for correct cell morphogenesis and division. The cytoplasmic FAZ cytoskeleton is conspicuously associated with a sheet of endoplasmic reticulum termed the ‘FAZ ER’. In the present work, 3D electron tomography of bloodstream form trypanosomes was used to clarify the nature of the FAZ ER. We also identified TbVAP, a T. brucei protein whose knockdown by RNAi in procyclic form cells leads to a dramatic reduction in the FAZ ER, and in the ER associated with the flagellar pocket. TbVAP is an orthologue of VAMP-associated proteins (VAPs), integral ER membrane proteins whose mutation in humans has been linked to familial motor neuron disease. The localisation of tagged TbVAP and the phenotype of TbVAP RNAi in procyclic form trypanosomes are consistent with a function for TbVAP in the maintenance of sub-populations of the ER associated with the FAZ and the flagellar pocket. Nevertheless, depletion of TbVAP did not affect cell viability or cell cycle progression.
Centrioles are found in nearly all eukaryotic cells and are required for growth and maintenance of the radial array of microtubules, the mitotic spindle, and cilia and flagella. Different types of microtubule structures are often required at different places in a given cell; centrioles must move around to nucleate these varied structures. Here, we draw together recent data on diverse centriole movements to decipher common themes in how centrioles move. Par proteins establish and maintain the required cellular asymmetry. The actin cytoskeleton facilitates movement of multiple basal bodies. Microtubule forces acting on the cell cortex, and nuclear cytoskeletal links, are important for positioning individual centrosomes, and during cell division. Knowledge of these common mechanisms can inform the study of centriole movements across biology.
Eukaryotic flagella are microtubule-based structures required for a variety of functions including cell motility and sensory perception. Most eukaryotic flagella grow out from a cell into the surrounding medium, but when the flagellum of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei exits the cell via the flagellar pocket, it is attached along the length of the cell body by a cytoskeletal structure called the flagellum attachment zone (FAZ). The exact reasons for flagellum attachment have remained elusive, but evidence is emerging that the attached flagellum plays a major role in cell morphogenesis in this organism. In this review we discuss evidence published in the past four years that is unravelling the role of the flagellum in organelle segregation, inheritance of cell shape and cytokinesis.
The defined shape and single-copy organelles of Trypanosoma brucei mean that it provides an excellent model in which to study how duplication and segregation of organelles is interfaced with morphogenesis of overall cell shape and form. The centriole or basal body of eukaryotic cells is often seen to be at the centre of such processes. We have used a combination of electron microscopy and electron tomography techniques to provide a detailed three-dimensional view of duplication of the basal body in trypanosomes. We show that the basal body duplication and maturation cycle exerts an influence on the intimately associated flagellar pocket membrane system that is the portal for secretion and uptake from this cell. At the start of the cell cycle, a probasal body is positioned anterior to the basal body of the existing flagellum. At the G1-S transition, the probasal body matures, elongates and invades the pre-existing flagellar pocket to form the new flagellar axoneme. The new basal body undergoes a spectacular anti-clockwise rotation around the old flagellum, while its short new axoneme is associated with the pre-existing flagellar pocket. This rotation and subsequent posterior movements results in division of the flagellar pocket and ultimately sets parameters for subsequent daughter cell morphogenesis.
Trypanosoma brucei is a unicellular parasite causing African sleeping sickness in cattle and humans. Due to the ease with which these cells can be cultured and genetically manipulated, it has emerged as a model organism for the kinetoplastids.In this chapter we describe the preparation of T. brucei for transmission electron microscopy. A thorough explanation of conventional sample preparation through chemical fixation of whole cells and detergent extracted cytoskeletons followed by dehydration and Epon embedding is given. We also introduce a novel high-pressure freezing protocol, which followed by rapid freeze substitution and HM20 embedding generates T. brucei samples displaying good cell morphology, which are suitable for immunocytochemistry.
Proteins from the calpain super-family are involved in developmentally- and environmentally regulated re-modelling of the eukaryotic cytoskeleton and the dynamic organisation of signal transduction cascades. In trypanosomatid parasites, calpain-related gene families are unusually large, but we have little insight in to the functional roles played by these molecules during trypanosomatid lifecycles. Here we report that CAP5.5, a cytoskeletal calpain-related protein subject to strict stage-specific expression in the sleeping sickness parasite Trypanosoma brucei, is essential and required for correct cell morphogenesis of procyclic (tsetse mid-gut stage) T. brucei. Striking consequences of CAP5.5 RNA interference are the loss of protein from the posterior cell-end, organelle mis-positioning giving rise to aberrant cytokinesis, and disorganisation of the sub-pellicular microtubules that define trypanosome cell shape. We further report that the stage-specificity of CAP5.5 expression can be explained by the presence of a paralogue, CAP5.5V, which is required for cell morphogenesis in bloodstream T. brucei; RNAi against this paralogous protein results in a qualitatively similar phenotype to that described for procyclic CAP5.5 RNAi mutants. By comparison to recently described phenotypes for other procyclic trypanosome RNAi mutants, likely functions for CAP5.5 and CAP5.5V are discussed.
Abstract: This study uses electron tomography linked to a variety of other EM methods to provide an integrated view of the flagellar pocket and basal body area of the African trypanosome procyclic trypomastigote. We reveal the pocket as an asymmetric membranous 'balloon' with two boundary structures. One of these - the collar - defines the flagellum exit point. The other defines the entry point of the flagellum into the pocket and consists of both an internal transitional fibre array and an external membrane collarette. A novel set of nine radial fibres is described in the basal body proximal zone. The pocket asymmetry is invariably correlated with the position of the probasal body and Golgi. The neck region, just distal to the flagellum exit site, is a specialised area of membrane associated with the start of the flagellum attachment zone and signifies the point where a special set of four microtubules, nucleated close to the basal bodies, joins the subpellicular array. The neck region is also associated with the single Golgi apparatus of the cell. The flagellar exit point interrupts the subpellicular microtubule array with discrete endings of microtubules at the posterior side. Overall, our studies reveal a highly organised, yet dynamic, area of cytoplasm and will be informative in understanding its function.
The flagellum is attached along the length of the cell body in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei and is a defining morphological feature of this parasite. The flagellum attachment zone ( FAZ) is a complex structure and has been characterised morphologically as comprising a FAZ filament structure and the specialised microtubule quartet (MtQ) plus the specialised areas of flagellum: plasma membrane attachment. Unfortunately, we have no information as to the molecular identity of the FAZ filament components. Here, by screening an expression library with the monoclonal antibody L3B2 which identifies the FAZ filament we identify a novel repeat containing protein FAZ1. It is kinetoplastid-specific and provides the first molecular component of the FAZ filament. Knockdown of FAZ1 by RNA interference (RNAi) results in the assembly of a compromised FAZ and defects in flagellum attachment and cytokinesis in procyclic trypanosomes. The complexity of FAZ structure and assembly is revealed by the use of other monoclonal antibody markers illustrating that FAZ1 is only one protein of a complex structure. The cytokinesis defects provide further evidence for the role of an attached flagellum in cellular morphogenesis in these trypanosomes.
Undoubtedly, there are fundamental processes driving the structural mechanics of cell division in eukaryotic organisms that have been conserved throughout evolution and are being revealed by studies on organisms such as yeast and mammalian cells. Precision of structural mechanics of cytokinesis is however probably no better illustrated than in the protozoa. A dramatic example of this is the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei, a unicellular flagellated parasite that causes a devastating disease (African sleeping sickness) across Sub-Saharan Africa in both man and animals. As trypanosomes migrate between and within a mammalian host and the tsetse vector, there are periods of cell proliferation and cell differentiation involving at least five morphologically distinct cell types. Much of the existing cytoskeleton remains intact during these processes, necessitating a very precise temporal and spatial duplication and segregation of the many single-copy organelles. This structural precision is aiding progress in understanding these processes as we apply the excellent reverse genetics and post-genomic technologies available in this system. Here we outline our current understanding of some of the structural aspects of cell division in this fascinating organism.
Constructing a eukaryotic cilium/flagellum is a demanding task requiring the transport of proteins from their cytoplasmic synthesis site into a spatially and environmentally distinct cellular compartment. The clear potential hazard is that import of aberrant proteins could seriously disable cilia/flagella assembly or turnover processes. Here, we reveal that tubulin protein destined for incorporation into axonemal microtubules interacts with a tubulin cofactor C (TBCC) domain-containing protein that is specifically located at the mature basal body transitional fibres. RNA interference-mediated ablation of this protein results in axonemal microtubule defects but no effect on other microtubule populations within the cell. Bioinformatics analysis indicates that this protein belongs to a clade of flagellum-specific TBCC-like proteins that includes the human protein, XRP2, mutations which lead to certain forms of the hereditary eye disease retinitis pigmentosa. Taken with other observations regarding the role of transitional fibres in cilium/flagellum assembly, we suggest that a localized protein processing capacity embedded at transitional fibres ensures the 'quality' of tubulin imported into the cilium/flagellum, and further, that loss of a ciliary/flagellar quality control capability may underpin a number of human genetic disorders.
The most common form of the motile eukaryotic flagellum contains a 9 + 2 axoneme, consisting of nine outer doublet microtubules and a central pair of single microtubules. The flagellum of the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei fits this pattern, but in addition possesses a paraflagellar rod (PFR) connected to the axoneme at doublets 4 through 7. The PFR acts as a structural platform for metabolic enzymes and is essential for motility (for review, see ). Here we describe a novel intra-lumenal microtubule structure, which we term the ponticulus, that bridges the B-tubule lumen in all 9 outer doublet microtubules of the 9 + 2 axoneme. We show that ponticuli are not incorporated into the axoneme during new flagellum assembly, but instead are a post- assembly modification.
By tilting many axoneme sections in the transmission electron microscope, we confirmed that a bridge-like structure is present in the B-tubule of all nine outer doublets but is never present in the central pair microtubules (Figure 1A and inset). We have termed this structure a ponticulus (little bridge). Ponticuli are present in both tsetse-form and bloodstream trypanosomes and in axonemes of Leishmania and Crithidia.
alpha- and beta-tubulin are fundamental components of the eukaryotic cytoskeleton and cell division machinery. While overall tubulin expression is carefully controlled, most eukaryotes express multiple tubulin genes in specific regulatory or developmental contexts. The genomes of the human parasites Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania major reveal that these unicellular kinetoplastids possess arrays of tandem-duplicated tubulin genes, but with differences in organisation. While L. major possesses monotypic alpha and beta arrays in trans, an array of alternating alpha- and beta tubulin genes occurs in T. brucei. Polycistronic transcription in these organisms makes the chromosomal arrangement of tubulin genes important with respect to gene expression.
We investigated the genomic architecture of tubulin tandem arrays among these parasites, establishing which character state is derived, and the timing of character transition. Tubulin loci in T. brucei and L. major were compared to examine the relationship between the two character states. Intergenic regions between tubulin genes were sequenced from several trypanosomatids and related, non-parasitic bodonids to identify the ancestral state. Evidence of alternating arrays was found among non-parasitic kinetoplastids and all Trypanosoma spp.; monotypic arrays were confirmed in all Leishmania spp. and close relatives.
Alternating and monotypic tubulin arrays were found to be mutually exclusive through comparison of genome sequences. The presence of alternating gene arrays in non-parasitic kinetoplastids confirmed that separate, monotypic arrays are the derived state and evolved through genomic restructuring in the lineage leading to Leishmania. This fundamental reorganisation accounted for the dissimilar genomic architectures of T. brucei and L. major tubulin repertoires.
Tubulin isotypes and expression patterns are highly regulated in diverse organisms. The genome sequence of the protozoan parasite Leishmania major contains three distinct β-tubulin loci. To investigate the diversity of β-tubulin genes, we have compared the published genome sequence to draft genome sequences of two further species L. infantum and L. braziliensis. Untranscribed regions and coding sequences for each isoform were compared within and between species in relation to the known diversity of β-tubulin transcripts in Leishmania spp.
All three β-tubulin loci were present in L. infantum and L. braziliensis, showing conserved synteny with the L. major sequence, hence confirming that these loci are paralogous. Flanking regions suggested that the chromosome 21 locus is an amastigote-specific isoform and more closely related (either structurally or functionally) to the chromosome 33 'array' locus than the chromosome 8 locus. A phylogenetic network of all isoforms indicated that paralogs from L. braziliensis and L. mexicana were monophyletic, rather than clustering by locus.
L. braziliensis and L. mexicana sequences appeared more similar to each other than each did to its closest relative in another species; this indicates that these sequences have evolved convergently in each species, perhaps through ectopic gene conversion; a process not yet evident among the more recently derived L. major and L. infantum isoforms. The distinctive non-coding regions of each β-tubulin locus showed that it is the regulatory regions of these loci that have evolved most during the diversification of these genes in Leishmania, while the coding regions have been conserved and concerted. The various loci in Leishmania satisfy a need for innovative expression of β-tubulin, rather than elaboration of its structural role.
Trypanosoma brucei is a flagellated protozoan with a highly polarized cellular structure. TbLRTP is a trypanosomal protein containing multiple SDS22-class leucine-rich repeats and a coiled-coil domain with high similarity to a mammalian testis-specific protein of unknown function. Homologues are present in a wide range of higher eukaryotes including zebra fish, where the gene product has been implicated in polycystic kidney disease. Western blot analysis and immunofluorescence with antibodies against recombinant TbLRTP indicate that the protein is expressed throughout the trypanosome life cycle and localizes to distal zones of the basal bodies. Overexpression and RNA interference demonstrate that TbLRTP is important for faithful basal body duplication and flagellum biogenesis. Expression of excess TbLRTP suppresses new flagellum assembly, while reduction of TbLRTP protein levels often results in the biogenesis of additional flagellar axonemes and paraflagellar rods that, most remarkably, are intracellular and fully contained within the cytoplasm. The mutant flagella are devoid of membrane and are often associated with four microtubules in an arrangement similar to that observed in the normal flagellar attachment zone. Aberrant basal body and flagellar biogenesis in TbLRTP mutants also influences cell size and cytokinesis. These findings demonstrate that TbLRTP suppresses basal body replication and subsequent flagellar biogenesis and indicate a critical role for the LRTP family of proteins in the control of the cell cycle. These data further underscore the role of aberrant flagellar biogenesis as a disease mechanism.
Trypanosoma brucei is a protozoan parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. T. brucei multiplies extracellularly in the bloodstream, relying on antigenic variation of a dense variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat to escape antibody-mediated lysis. We investigated the role of VSG in proliferation and pathogenicity by using inducible RNA interference to ablate VSG transcript down to 1-2% normal levels. Inhibiting VSG synthesis in vitro triggers a rapid and specific cell cycle checkpoint blocking cell division. Parasites arrest at a discrete precytokinesis stage with two full-length flagella and opposing flagellar pockets, without undergoing additional rounds of S phase and mitosis. A subset (<10%) of the stalled cells have internal flagella, indicating that the progenitors of these cells were already committed to cytokinesis when VSG restriction was sensed. Although there was no obvious VSG depletion in vitro after 24-h induction of VSG RNA interference, there was rapid clearance of these cells in vivo. We propose that a stringent block in VSG synthesis produces stalled trypanosomes with a minimally compromised VSG coat, which can be targeted by the immune system. Our data indicate that VSG protein or transcript is monitored during cell cycle progression in bloodstream-form T. brucei and describes precise precytokinesis cell cycle arrest. This checkpoint before cell division provides a link between the protective VSG coat and cell cycle progression and could function as a novel parasite safety mechanism, preventing extensive dilution of the protective VSG coat in the absence of VSG synthesis.
The FtsZ protein is a polymer-forming GTPase which drives bacterial cell division and is structurally and functionally related to eukaryotic tubulins. We have searched for FtsZ-related sequences in all freely accessible databases, then used strict criteria based on the tertiary structure of FtsZ and its well-characterized in vitro and in vivo properties to determine which sequences represent genuine homologues of FtsZ. We have identified 225 full-length FtsZ homologues, which we have used to document, phylum by phylum, the primary sequence characteristics of FtsZ homologues from the Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryota. We provide evidence for at least five independent ftsZ gene-duplication events in the bacterial kingdom and suggest the existence of three ancestoral euryarchaeal FtsZ paralogues. In addition, we identify “FtsZ-like” sequences from Bacteria and Archaea that, while showing significant sequence similarity to FtsZs, are unlikely to bind and hydrolyze GTP.
Throughout its elongation, the new flagellum of the procyclic form of the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei is tethered at its tip to the lateral aspect of the old flagellum. This phenomenon provides a cytotactic mechanism for influencing inheritance of cellular pattern. Here, we show that this tethering is produced via a discrete, mobile transmembrane junction – the flagella connector. Light and electron microscopy reveal that the flagella connector links the extending microtubules at the tip of the new flagellum to the lateral aspect of three of the doublet microtubules in the old flagellar axoneme. Two sets of filaments connect the microtubules to three plates on the inner faces of the old and new flagellar membranes. Three differentiated areas of old and new flagellar membranes are then juxtaposed and connected by a central interstitial core of electron-dense material. The flagella connector is formed early in flagellum extension and is removed at the end of cytokinesis, but the exact timing of the latter event is slightly variable. The flagella connector represents a novel form of cellular junction that is both dynamic and mobile.
γ-tubulin is an essential part of a multiprotein complex that nucleates the minus end of microtubules. Although the function of γ-tubulin in nucleating cytoplasmic and mitotic microtubules from organizing centers such as the centrosome and spindle pole body is well documented 1, 2 and 3, its role in microtubule nucleation in the eukaryotic flagellum is unclear. Here, we have used Trypanosoma brucei to investigate possible functions of γ-tubulin in the formation of the 9 + 2 flagellum axoneme. T. brucei possesses a single flagellum and forms a new flagellum during each cell cycle. We have used an inducible RNA interference (RNAi) approach to ablate expression of γ-tubulin, and, after induction, we observe that the new flagellum is still formed but is paralyzed, while the old flagellum is unaffected. Electron microscopy reveals that the paralyzed flagellum lacks central pair microtubules but that the outer doublet microtubules are formed correctly. These differences in microtubule nucleation mechanisms during flagellum growth provide insights into spatial and temporal regulation of γ-tubulin-dependent processes within cells and explanations for the organization and evolution of axonemal structures such as the 9 + 0 axonemes of sensory cells and primary cilia.
African Trypanosomes are flagellated protozoan parasites that cause sleeping sickness in humans and Nagana in cattle. During its life cycle, Trypanosoma brucei alternates between an insect vector (tsetse fly) and a mammalian host. Within each of these, the parasite proliferates and undergoes separate periods of differentiation in preparation for each new host/vector environment. The differentiated cell types of the trypanosome life cycle are defined morphologically by the position of the single flagellum, nucleus and kinetoplast (the single mass of mitochondrial DNA). The flagellum is key to these morphological events and hence much attention has focused recently on understanding its role in trypanosome morphogenesis and pathogenicity. However, the tractable cell biology, reverse genetics and advanced genome project mean that the trypanosome is also emerging as an ideal model organism for the studies of eukaryotic flagella and cilia in general.
Although most eukaryotic cells can express multiple isotypes of alphabeta-tubulin, the significance of this diversity has not always been apparent. Recent data indicate that particular alphabeta-tubulin isotypes, both genome encoded and those derived by post-translational modification, can directly influence microtubule structure and function--thus validating ideas originally proposed in the multitubulin hypothesis over 25 years ago. It has also become increasingly evident over the past year that some (but intriguingly not all) eukaryotes encode several other tubulin proteins, and to date five further members of the tubulin superfamily, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta and eta, have been identified. Although the role of gamma-tubulin in the nucleation of microtubule assembly is now well established, far less is known about the functions of delta-, epsilon-, zeta- and eta-tubulin. Recent work has expanded our knowledge of the functions and localisation of these newer members of the tubulin superfamily, and the emerging data suggesting a restricted evolutionary distribution of these 'new' tubulin proteins, conforms to established knowledge of microtubule cell biology. On the basis of current evidence, we predict that delta-, epsilon-, zeta- and eta-tubulin all have functions associated with the centriole or basal body of eukaryotic cells and organisms.
More than 20 years ago, biochemical analysis of the eukaryotic cell cytoskeleton revealed the major component proteins. The heterodimeric (α/β) protein tubulin was defined as the building block of microtubules, assembled in a polar manner into specifically arranged protofilaments in the microtubule wall .
The next two members of the tubulin protein superfamily were both discovered by genetic means — γ tubulin in Aspergillus  and δ tubulin in Chlamydomonas . The γ tubulin is essential for microtubule function and is located in centroso mes and other microtubule-organising centres . The δ tubulin is encoded by the UNI3 gene in Chlamydomonas and a uni3-1 mutation resulted in flagellar basal bodies that possess doublet rather than triplet microtubules . These four members of the tubulin superfamily can be characterised by their distinct intracellular locations and expression patterns, which are reflected in unique sequence characteristics.
The large number of tubulin sequences available in current databases, coupled with the considerable divergence of those sequences, complicates the task of reliable identification and characterisation of tubulin family members. During the Saccharomyces cerevisiae genome project, sequencing revealed the presence of a tubulin gene that was only around 30% identical to the yeast α and β tubulins. This Tub4 protein was conjectured to be a novel tubulin rather than an α, β or γ tubulin . However, subsequent analysis of the completed S. cerevisiae genome and molecular and biochemical studies have led to an accepted view that Tub4 is the budding yeast γ tubulin . Consequently, it has been suggested that caution is required in using certain types of sequence analysis methods to classify novel tubulin sequences .
Within the genome of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei, the genes for α and β tubulin exist as a cluster of repeated α/β pairs . Recently, we identified the single γ tubulin gene in T. brucei . We then conducted a search by PCR and other means for the presence of the T. brucei homologue of δ tubulin. To our surprise, after we cloned the T. brucei δ tubulin homologue, we also identified two new divergent tubulin-like sequences. The general features can be readily visualised in the automatically generated alignment illustrated in Figure 1. Both of these new sequences are also present within the T. brucei genome project databases at the Sanger Centre and TIGR as partial or complete sequences (see Figure 1).