A polar flagellar transcriptional program mediated by diverse two-component signal transduction systems and basal flagellar proteins is broadly conserved in polar flagellates

Peter M. Burnham, William P. Kolar, David R. Hendrixson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Bacterial flagella are rotating nanomachines required for motility. Flagellar gene expression and protein secretion are coordinated for efficient flagellar biogenesis. Polar flagellates, unlike peritrichous bacteria, commonly order flagellar rod and hook gene transcription as a separate step after production of the MS ring, C ring, and flagellar type III secretion system (fT3SS) core proteins that form a competent fT3SS. Conserved regulatory mechanisms in diverse polar flagellates to create this polar flagellar transcriptional program have not been thoroughly assimilated. Using in silico and genetic analyses and our previous findings in Campylobacter jejuni as a foundation, we observed a large subset of Gram-negative bacteria with the FlhF/FlhG regulatory system for polar flagellation to possess flagellum-associated two-component signal transduction systems (TCSs). We present data supporting a general theme in polar flagellates whereby MS ring, rotor, and fT3SS proteins contribute to a regulatory checkpoint during polar flagellar biogenesis. We demonstrate that Vibrio cholerae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa require the formation of this regulatory checkpoint for the TCSs to directly activate subsequent rod and hook gene transcription, which are hallmarks of the polar flagellar transcriptional program. By reprogramming transcription in V. cholerae to more closely follow the peritrichous flagellar transcriptional program, we discovered a link between the polar flagellar transcription program and the activity of FlhF/FlhG flagellar biogenesis regulators in which the transcriptional program allows polar flagellates to continue to produce flagella for motility when FlhF or FlhG activity may be altered. Our findings integrate flagellar transcriptional and biogenesis regulatory processes involved in polar flagellation in many species. IMPORTANCE Relative to peritrichous bacteria, polar flagellates possess regulatory systems that order flagellar gene transcription differently and produce flagella in specific numbers only at poles. How transcriptional and flagellar biogenesis regulatory systems are interlinked to promote the correct synthesis of polar flagella in diverse species has largely been unexplored. We found evidence for many Gram-negative polar flagellates encoding two-component signal transduction systems with activity linked to the formation of flagellar type III secretion systems to enable production of flagellar rod and hook proteins at a discrete, subsequent stage during flagellar assembly. This polar flagellar transcriptional program assists, in some manner, the FlhF/FlhG flagellar biogenesis regulatory system, which forms specific flagellation patterns in polar flagellates in maintaining flagellation and motility when activity of FlhF or FlhG might be altered. Our work provides insight into the multiple regulatory processes required for polar flagellation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03107-19
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Flagellar biogenesis
  • FlhF
  • FlhG
  • MS ring
  • Motility
  • Polar flagellation
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • T3SS
  • Two-component signal transduction
  • Vibrio cholerae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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