Structural and biochemical analysis of the sheath of Phormidium uncinatum

Egbert Hoiczyk

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The sheath of the filamentous, gliding cyanobacterium Phormidium uncinatum was studied by using light and electron microscopy. In thin sections and freeze fractures the sheath was found to be composed of helically arranged carbohydrate fibrils, 4 to 7 nm in diameter, which showed a substantial degree of crystallinity. As in all other examined motile cyanobacteria, the arrangement of the sheath fibrils correlates with the motion of the filaments during gliding motility; i.e., the fibrils formed a right-handed helix in clockwise-rotating species and a left-handed helix in counterclockwise-rotating species and were radially arranged in nonrotating cyanobacteria. Since sheaths could only be found in old immotile cultures, the arrangement seems to depend on the process of formation and attachment of sheath fibrils to the cell surface rather than on shear forces created by the locomotion of the filaments. As the sheath in P. uncinatum directly contacts the cell surface via the previously identified surface fibril forming glycoprotein oscillin (E. Hoiczyk and W. Baumeister, Mol. Microbiol. 26:699- 708, 1997), it seems reasonable that similar surface glycoproteins act as platforms for the assembly and attachment of the sheaths in cyanobacteria. In P. uncinatum the sheath makes up approximately 21% of the total dry weight of old cultures and consists only of neutral sugars. Staining reactions and X- ray diffraction analysis suggested that the fibrillar component is a homoglucan that is very similar but not identical to cellulose which is cross-linked by the other detected monosaccharides. Both the chemical composition and the rigid highly ordered structure clearly distinguish the sheaths from the slime secreted by the filaments during gliding motility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3923-3932
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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