Three-dimensional structure of Mycoplasma pneumoniae's attachment organelle and a model for its role in gliding motility

Mol Microbiol. 2006 Apr;60(2):376-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2006.05113.x.


While most motile bacteria propel themselves with flagella, other mechanisms have been described including retraction of surface-attached pili, secretion of polysaccharides, or movement of motors along surface protein tracks. These have been referred to collectively as forms of 'gliding' motility. Despite being simultaneously one of the smallest and simplest of all known cells, Mycoplasma pneumoniae builds a surprisingly large and complex cell extension known as the attachment organelle that enables it to glide. Here, three-dimensional images of the attachment organelle were produced with unprecedented clarity and authenticity using state-of-the-art electron cryotomography. The attachment organelle was seen to contain a multisubunit, jointed, dynamic motor much larger than a flagellar basal body and comparable in complexity. A new model for its function is proposed wherein inchworm-like conformational changes of its electron-dense core are leveraged against a cytoplasmic anchor and transmitted to the surface through layered adhesion proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Adhesion*
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Membrane Proteins / ultrastructure
  • Models, Biological*
  • Movement
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae / physiology
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae / ultrastructure*
  • Organelles / physiology
  • Organelles / ultrastructure


  • Membrane Proteins