Bacterial gliding motility: multiple mechanisms for cell movement over surfaces

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2001;55:49-75. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.55.1.49.


The mechanisms responsible for bacterial gliding motility have been a mystery for almost 200 years. Gliding bacteria move actively over surfaces by a process that does not involve flagella. Gliding bacteria are phylogenetically diverse and are abundant in many environments. Recent results indicate that more than one mechanism is needed to explain all forms of bacterial gliding motility. Myxococcus xanthus "social gliding motility" and Synechocystis gliding are similar to bacterial "twitching motility" and rely on type IV pilus extension and retraction for cell movement. In contrast, gliding of filamentous cyanobacteria, mycoplasmas, members of the Cytophaga-Flavobacterium group, and "adventurous gliding" of M. xanthus do not appear to involve pili. The mechanisms of movement employed by these bacteria are still a matter of speculation. Genetic, biochemical, ultrastructural, and behavioral studies are providing insight into the machineries employed by these diverse bacteria that enable them to glide over surfaces.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology
  • Flavobacterium / physiology
  • Movement
  • Mycoplasma / physiology
  • Myxococcus / physiology
  • Polysaccharides / physiology


  • Polysaccharides