Flagellar motility in eukaryotic human parasites

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2015 Oct:46:113-27. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2015.10.034. Epub 2015 Oct 30.


A huge variety of protists rely on one or more motile flagella to either move themselves or move fluids and substances around them. Many of these flagellates have evolved a symbiotic or parasitic lifestyle. Several of the parasites have adapted to human hosts, and include agents of prevalent and serious diseases. These unicellular parasites have become specialised in colonising a wide range of biological niches within humans. They usually have diverse transmission cycles, and frequently manifest a variety of distinct morphological stages. The motility of the single or multiple flagella plays important but understudied roles in parasite transmission, host invasion, dispersal, survival, proliferation and pathology. In this review we provide an overview of the important human pathogens that possess a motile flagellum for at least part of their life cycle. We highlight recently published studies that aim to elucidate motility mechanisms, and their relevance for human disease. We then bring the physics of swimming at the microscale into context, emphasising the importance of interdisciplinary approaches for a full understanding of flagellate motility - especially in light of the parasites' microenvironments and population dynamics. Finally, we summarise some important technological aspects, describing challenges for the field and possibilities for motility analyses in the future.

Keywords: Flagellum; Giardia; Leishmania; Microbial motility; Plasmodium; Spatiotemporal resolution; Trichomonas; Trypanosoma; Unicellular parasite.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Flagella / physiology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Kinetoplastida / classification
  • Kinetoplastida / genetics
  • Kinetoplastida / physiology
  • Movement / physiology
  • Parasites / classification
  • Parasites / genetics
  • Parasites / physiology*
  • Parasitic Diseases / parasitology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plasmodium / classification
  • Plasmodium / genetics
  • Plasmodium / physiology