Structure-function analysis of dynein light chain 1 identifies viable motility mutants in bloodstream-form Trypanosoma brucei

Eukaryot Cell. 2011 Jul;10(7):884-94. doi: 10.1128/EC.00298-10. Epub 2011 Mar 4.


The flagellum of Trypanosoma brucei is an essential and multifunctional organelle that is receiving increasing attention as a potential drug target and as a system for studying flagellum biology. RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown is widely used to test the requirement for a protein in flagellar motility and has suggested that normal flagellar motility is essential for viability in bloodstream-form trypanosomes. However, RNAi knockdown alone provides limited functional information because the consequence is often loss of a multiprotein complex. We therefore developed an inducible system that allows functional analysis of point mutations in flagellar proteins in T. brucei. Using this system, we identified point mutations in the outer dynein light chain 1 (LC1) that allow stable assembly of outer dynein motors but do not support propulsive motility. In procyclic-form trypanosomes, the phenotype of LC1 mutants with point mutations differs from the motility and structural defects of LC1 knockdowns, which lack the outer-arm dynein motor. Thus, our results distinguish LC1-specific functions from broader functions of outer-arm dynein. In bloodstream-form trypanosomes, LC1 knockdown blocks cell division and is lethal. In contrast, LC1 point mutations cause severe motility defects without affecting viability, indicating that the lethal phenotype of LC1 RNAi knockdown is not due to defective motility. Our results demonstrate for the first time that normal motility is not essential in bloodstream-form T. brucei and that the presumed connection between motility and viability is more complex than might be interpreted from knockdown studies alone. These findings open new avenues for dissecting mechanisms of flagellar protein function and provide an important step in efforts to exploit the potential of the flagellum as a therapeutic target in African sleeping sickness.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 3' Untranslated Regions / genetics
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Cell Movement*
  • Cell Survival
  • Dyneins / genetics*
  • Dyneins / physiology
  • Flagella / genetics
  • Flagella / physiology*
  • Point Mutation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics*
  • Protozoan Proteins / physiology
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / cytology
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / genetics
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / physiology*
  • Trypanosomiasis, African / genetics
  • Trypanosomiasis, African / metabolism
  • Trypanosomiasis, African / pathology


  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Dyneins