Spirochetes can be distinguished from other flagellated bacteria by their long, thin, spiral (or wavy) cell bodies and endoflagella that reside within the periplasmic space, designated as periplasmic flagella (PFs). Some members of the spirochetes are pathogenic, including the causative agents of syphilis, Lyme disease, swine dysentery, and leptospirosis. Furthermore, their unique morphologies have attracted attention of structural biologists; however, the underlying physics of viscoelasticity-dependent spirochetal motility is a longstanding mystery. Elucidating the molecular basis of spirochetal invasion and interaction with hosts, resulting in the appearance of symptoms or the generation of asymptomatic reservoirs, will lead to a deeper understanding of host–pathogen relationships and the development of antimicrobials. Moreover, the mechanism of propulsion in fluids or on surfaces by the rotation of PFs within the narrow periplasmic space could be a designing base for an autonomously driving micro-robot with high efficiency. This review describes diverse morphology and motility observed among the spirochetes and further summarizes the current knowledge on their mechanisms and relations to pathogenicity, mainly from the standpoint of experimental biophysics.
- Molecular motor
- Periplasmic flagella