A protonmotive force drives bacterial flagella

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1977 Jul;74(7):3060-4. doi: 10.1073/pnas.74.7.3060.


Streptococcus strain V4051 is motile in the presence of glucose. The cells move steadily along smooth paths (run), jump about briefly with little net displacement (twiddle), and then run in new directions. They stop swimming when deprived of glucose. These cells become motile when an electrical potential or a pH gradient is imposed across the membrane. Starved cells suspended in a potassium-free medium respond to the addition of valinomycin by a brief period of vigorous twiddling. They also twiddle, although less vigorously, when the external pH is lowered. Valinomycin-induced twiddling occurs in the absence of external alkali or alkaline earth cations and without significant net synthesis of ATP. When a chemoattractant is added to cells swimming in the presence of glucose, twiddles are transiently suppressed, and the cells run for a time. Similarly, when starved cells are suspended in a potassium-free medium containing both valinomycin and an attractant, many cells initially run rather than twiddle. We conclude that the flagella are driven by a protonmotive force.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Chemotaxis
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Flagella / physiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ionophores / pharmacology
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Movement / drug effects
  • Potassium / pharmacology
  • Proteins*
  • Streptococcus / physiology*
  • Streptococcus / ultrastructure
  • Valinomycin / pharmacology


  • Ionophores
  • Proteins
  • Valinomycin
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Glucose
  • Potassium