Physical model of axonemal splitting

Michael E.J. Holwill, Peter Satir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


A physical model developed to explain microtubule sliding patterns in the trypsintreated ciliary axoneme has been extended to investigate the generation of bending moments by microtubules sliding in an axoneme in which the dublets are anchored at one end. With sliding restricted, a bending moment is developed by the polarized shearing interaction between neighbouring doublets, effected by the activity of dynein arms on doublet N pushing N + 1 in a tipward ( + ) direction. In arrested axonemes in which arms on several contiguous doublets are active, the bending moment causes splitting of the 9 + 2 microtubule array into two or more sets of doublets. In the absence of special constraints, splitting depends only on breaking the circumferential interdoublet links most distorted by the bending moment. The analysis, which permits assignment of arm activity to specific microtubules in each of the observed patterns of splitting, indicates that the axoneme will split between doublet N and N + 1 if arms on doublet N are inactive and arms on either N + 1 or N−1 are active. To produce the observed major splits, dynein arms on the microtubules of roughly one‐half of the axoneme are predicted to be active, in a manner consistent with the switch‐point hypothesis of ciliary motion. Electron microscopic examination indicates that virtually every set of doublets in the split axonemes retains its cylindrical form. Maintenance of cylindrical symmetry can be ascribed to the mechanical properties of the unbroken links, which may resist both tensile and compressive stress, and to active dynein arms. © 1994 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-298
Number of pages12
JournalCell Motility and the Cytoskeleton
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1994


  • cilium
  • flagellum
  • microtubules
  • motility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Cell Biology


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