Movements of Mycoplasma mobile Gliding Machinery Detected by High-Speed Atomic Force Microscopy

mBio. 2021 May 28;e0004021. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00040-21. Online ahead of print.


Mycoplasma mobile, a parasitic bacterium, glides on solid surfaces, such as animal cells and glass, by a special mechanism. This process is driven by the force generated through ATP hydrolysis on an internal structure. However, the spatial and temporal behaviors of the internal structures in living cells are unclear. In this study, we detected the movements of the internal structure by scanning cells immobilized on a glass substrate using high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM). By scanning the surface of a cell, we succeeded in visualizing particles, 2 nm in height and aligned mostly along the cell axis with a pitch of 31.5 nm, consistent with previously reported features based on electron microscopy. Movements of individual particles were then analyzed by HS-AFM. In the presence of sodium azide, the average speed of particle movements was reduced, suggesting that movement is linked to ATP hydrolysis. Partial inhibition of the reaction by sodium azide enabled us to analyze particle behavior in detail, showing that the particles move 9 nm right, relative to the gliding direction, and 2 nm into the cell interior in 330 ms and then return to their original position, based on ATP hydrolysis. IMPORTANCE The Mycoplasma genus contains bacteria generally parasitic to animals and plants. Some Mycoplasma species form a protrusion at a pole, bind to solid surfaces, and glide by a special mechanism linked to their infection and survival. The special machinery for gliding can be divided into surface and internal structures that have evolved from rotary motors represented by ATP synthases. This study succeeded in visualizing the real-time movements of the internal structure by scanning from the outside of the cell using an innovative high-speed atomic force microscope and then analyzing their behaviors.

Keywords: AFM; ATPase; class Mollicutes; pathogenic bacteria; probing.