Functional genomics in Trypanosoma brucei identifies evolutionarily conserved components of motile flagella

J Cell Sci. 2007 Feb 1;120(Pt 3):478-91. doi: 10.1242/jcs.03352. Epub 2007 Jan 16.


Cilia and flagella are highly conserved, complex organelles involved in a variety of important functions. Flagella are required for motility of several human pathogens and ciliary defects lead to a variety of fatal and debilitating human diseases. Many of the major structural components of cilia and flagella are known, but little is known about regulation of flagellar beat. Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness, provides an excellent model for studying flagellar motility. We have used comparative genomics to identify a core group of 50 genes unique to organisms with motile flagella. These genes, referred to as T. brucei components of motile flagella (TbCMF) include 30 novel genes, and human homologues of many of the TbCMF genes map to loci associated with human ciliary diseases. To characterize TbCMF protein function we used RNA interference to target 41 TbCMF genes. Sedimentation assays and direct observation demonstrated clear motility defects in a majority of these knockdown mutants. Epitope tagging, fluorescence localization and biochemical fractionation demonstrated flagellar localization for several TbCMF proteins. Finally, ultrastructural analysis identified a family of novel TbCMF proteins that function to maintain connections between outer doublet microtubules, suggesting that they are the first identified components of nexin links. Overall, our results provide insights into the workings of the eukaryotic flagellum, identify several novel human disease gene candidates, reveal unique aspects of the trypanosome flagellum and underscore the value of T. brucei as an experimental system for studying flagellar biology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Flagella / genetics
  • Flagella / physiology*
  • Flagella / ultrastructure
  • Genomics*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Movement*
  • Mutation
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA Interference
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / cytology*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / genetics
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / physiology*


  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins