Three-dimensional structure of the radial spokes reveals heterogeneity and interactions with dyneins in Chlamydomonas flagella

Mol Biol Cell. 2012 Jan;23(1):111-20. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E11-08-0692. Epub 2011 Nov 9.


Radial spokes (RSs) play an essential role in the regulation of axonemal dynein activity and thus of ciliary and flagellar motility. However, few details are known about the complexes involved. Using cryo-electron tomography and subtomogram averaging, we visualized the three-dimensional structure of the radial spokes in Chlamydomonas flagella in unprecedented detail. Unlike many other species, Chlamydomonas has only two spokes per axonemal repeat, RS1 and RS2. Our data revealed previously uncharacterized features, including two-pronged spoke bases that facilitate docking to the doublet microtubules, and that inner dyneins connect directly to the spokes. Structures of wild type and the headless spoke mutant pf17 were compared to define the morphology and boundaries of the head, including a direct RS1-to-RS2 interaction. Although the overall structures of the spokes are very similar, we also observed some differences, corroborating recent findings about heterogeneity in the docking of RS1 and RS2. In place of a third radial spoke we found an uncharacterized, shorter electron density named "radial spoke 3 stand-in," which structurally bears no resemblance to RS1 and RS2 and is unaltered in the pf17 mutant. These findings demonstrate that radial spokes are heterogeneous in structure and may play functionally distinct roles in axoneme regulation.

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

  • Axoneme / ultrastructure
  • Chlamydomonas reinhardtii / ultrastructure*
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Dyneins / metabolism*
  • Electron Microscope Tomography
  • Flagella / metabolism
  • Flagella / ultrastructure*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary


  • Plant Proteins
  • Dyneins