Improvement in motion efficiency of the spirochete Brachyspira pilosicoli in viscous environments

Biophys J. 2006 Apr 15;90(8):3019-26. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.105.074336. Epub 2006 Jan 13.


Spirochetes are unique among swimming bacteria in terms of their lack of external flagella. They actively move in viscous environments, and, surprisingly, the swimming speed of the spirochete Leptospira interrogans has been reported to increase with viscosity in methylcellulose solutions. Many researchers consider that the presence of a loose, quasi-rigid network formed by linear polymer molecules is related to this strange phenomenon. One of the authors has proposed a theory that expresses this idea mathematically and successfully explains the speed properties of an externally flagellated bacterium in viscous environments. This theory predicts that the ratio of swimming speed to wave frequency (v/f ratio, motion efficiency in a sense) increases with viscosity. In this study, we demonstrated a new method of measuring the swimming speed and wave frequency of spirochetes and the motion characteristics of a swine intestinal spirochete, Brachyspira pilosicoli strain NK1f, measured in viscous environments. Several sets of swimming speed and wave frequency data were simultaneously derived from an animation obtained by our method. The v/f ratio of NK1f displayed a tendency to increase with increasing viscosity, suggesting the validity of the above-mentioned theory. Improvement of motion efficiency is at least one of the factors that maintain spirochete motility in viscous environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motion
  • Spirochaetales / isolation & purification
  • Spirochaetales / physiology*
  • Swine
  • Viscosity