Type IV pilus of Myxococcus xanthus is a motility apparatus controlled by the frz chemosensory system

Curr Biol. 2000 Sep 21;10(18):1143-6. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(00)00705-3.


Although flagella are the best-understood means of locomotion in bacteria [1], other bacterial motility mechanisms must exist as many diverse groups of bacteria move without the aid of flagella [2-4]. One unusual structure that may contribute to motility is the type IV pilus [5,6]. Genetic evidence indicates that type IV pili are required for social gliding motility (S-motility) in Myxococcus, and twitching motility in Pseudomonas and Neisseria [6,7]. It is thought that type IV pili may retract or rotate to bring about cellular motility [6,8], but there is no direct evidence for the role of pili in cell movements. Here, using a tethering assay, we obtained evidence that the type IV pilus of Myxococcus xanthus functions as a motility apparatus. Pili were required for M. xanthus cells to adhere to solid surfaces and to generate cellular movement using S-motility. Tethered cells were released from the surface at intervals corresponding to the reversal frequency of wild-type cells when gliding on a solid surface. Mutants defective in the control of directional movements and cellular reversals (frz mutants) showed altered patterns of adherence that correlate reversal frequencies with tethering. The behavior of the tethered cells was consistent with a model in which the pili are extruded from one cell pole, adhere to a surface, and then retract, pulling the cell in the direction of the adhering pili. Cellular reversals would result from the sites of pili extrusion switching from one cell pole to another and are controlled by the frz chemosensory system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacteriophage mu
  • Chemotaxis
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Movement
  • Mutation
  • Myxococcus xanthus / cytology
  • Myxococcus xanthus / genetics
  • Myxococcus xanthus / physiology*


  • Bacterial Proteins