Direct observation of the rotation of F1-ATPase

Nature. 1997 Mar 20;386(6622):299-302. doi: 10.1038/386299a0.


Cells employ a variety of linear motors, such as myosin, kinesin and RNA polymerase, which move along and exert force on a filamentous structure. But only one rotary motor has been investigated in detail, the bacterial flagellum (a complex of about 100 protein molecules). We now show that a single molecule of F1-ATPase acts as a rotary motor, the smallest known, by direct observation of its motion. A central rotor of radius approximately 1 nm, formed by its gamma-subunit, turns in a stator barrel of radius approximately 5nm formed by three alpha- and three beta-subunits. F1-ATPase, together with the membrane-embedded proton-conducting unit F0, forms the H+-ATP synthase that reversibly couples transmembrane proton flow to ATP synthesis/hydrolysis in respiring and photosynthetic cells. It has been suggested that the gamma-subunit of F1-ATPase rotates within the alphabeta-hexamer, a conjecture supported by structural, biochemical and spectroscopic studies. We attached a fluorescent actin filament to the gamma-subunit as a marker, which enabled us to observe this motion directly. In the presence of ATP, the filament rotated for more than 100 revolutions in an anticlockwise direction when viewed from the 'membrane' side. The rotary torque produced reached more than 40 pN nm(-1) under high load.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Bacillus / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Movement
  • Protein Conformation
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / chemistry*
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Actins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases