The rate of actin-based motility of intracellular Listeria monocytogenes equals the rate of actin polymerization

Nature. 1992 May 21;357(6375):257-60. doi: 10.1038/357257a0.


The Gram-positive bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is a facultative intracellular pathogen capable of rapid movement through the host cell cytoplasm. The biophysical basis of the motility of L. monocytogenes is an interesting question in its own right, the answer to which may shed light on the general processes of actin-based motility in cells. Moving intracellular bacteria display phase-dense 'comet tails' made of actin filaments, the formation of which is required for bacterial motility. We have investigated the dynamics of the actin filaments in the comet tails using the technique of photoactivation of fluorescence, which allows monitoring of the movement and turnover of labelled actin filaments after activation by illumination with ultraviolet light. We find that the actin filaments remain stationary in the cytoplasm as the bacterium moves forward, and that length of the comet tails is linearly proportional to the rate of movement. Our results imply that the motile mechanism involves continuous polymerization and release of actin filaments at the bacterial surface and that the rate of filament generation is related to the rate of movement. We suggest that actin polymerization provides the driving force for bacterial propulsion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Movement
  • Flagella / physiology
  • Flagella / ultrastructure
  • Half-Life
  • Listeria monocytogenes / physiology*
  • Listeria monocytogenes / ultrastructure
  • Macromolecular Substances


  • Actins
  • Macromolecular Substances