Coordinated beating of algal flagella is mediated by basal coupling.

20 April 2016

Cilia and flagella often exhibit synchronized behavior; this includes phase locking, as seen in Chlamydomonas, and metachronal wave formation in the respiratory cilia of higher organisms. Since the observations by Gray and Rothschild of phase synchrony of nearby swimming spermatozoa, it has been a working hypothesis that synchrony arises from hydrodynamic interactions between beating filaments. Recent work on the dynamics of physically separated pairs of flagella isolated from the multicellular alga Volvox has shown that hydrodynamic coupling alone is sufficient to produce synchrony. However, the situation is more complex in unicellular organisms bearing few flagella. We show that flagella of Chlamydomonas mutants deficient in filamentary connections between basal bodies display markedly different synchronization from the wild type. We perform micromanipulation on configurations of flagella and conclude that a mechanism, internal to the cell, must provide an additional flagellar coupling. In naturally occurring species with 4, 8, or even 16 flagella, we find diverse symmetries of basal body positioning and of the flagellar apparatus that are coincident with specific gaits of flagellar actuation, suggesting that it is a competition between intracellular coupling and hydrodynamic interactions that ultimately determines the precise form of flagellar coordination in unicellular algae.