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A kinematic description of the trajectories of Listeria monocytogenes propelled by actin comet tails

Shenoy, V.B., Tambe, D.T., Prasad, A., Theriot, J.A.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2007 v.104 no.20 pp. 8229-8234
Listeria monocytogenes, Xenopus, actin, bacteria, cytoskeleton, dynamic models, eggs, frogs, ingredients, pathogens, polymerization, prediction, serpentine, torque
The bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes propels itself in the cytoplasm of the infected cells by forming a filamentous comet tail assembled by the polymerization of the cytoskeletal protein actin. Although a great deal is known about the molecular processes that lead to actin-based movement, most macroscale aspects of motion, including the nature of the trajectories traced out by the motile bacteria, are not well understood. Here, we present 2D trajectories of Listeria moving between a glass-slide and coverslip in a Xenopus frog egg extract motility assay. We observe that the bacteria move in a number of fascinating geometrical trajectories, including winding S curves, translating figure eights, small- and large-amplitude sine curves, serpentine shapes, circles, and a variety of spirals. We then develop a dynamic model that provides a unified description of these seemingly unrelated trajectories. A key ingredient of the model is a torque (not included in any microscopic models of which we are aware) that arises from the rotation of the propulsive force about the body axis of the bacterium. We show that a large variety of trajectories with a rich mathematical structure are obtained by varying the rate at which the propulsive force moves about the long axis. The trajectories of bacteria executing both steady and saltatory motion are found to be in excellent agreement with the predictions of our dynamic model. When the constraints that lead to planar motion are removed, our model predicts motion along regular helical trajectories, observed in recent experiments.