PLoS pathogens

Giardia flagellar motility is not directly required to maintain attachment to surfaces.

PMID 21829364


Giardia trophozoites attach to the intestinal microvilli (or inert surfaces) using an undefined "suction-based" mechanism, and remain attached during cell division to avoid peristalsis. Flagellar motility is a key factor in Giardia's pathogenesis and colonization of the host small intestine. Specifically, the beating of the ventral flagella, one of four pairs of motile flagella, has been proposed to generate a hydrodynamic force that results in suction-based attachment via the adjacent ventral disc. We aimed to test this prevailing "hydrodynamic model" of attachment mediated by flagellar motility. We defined four distinct stages of attachment by assessing surface contacts of the trophozoite with the substrate during attachment using TIRF microscopy (TIRFM). The lateral crest of the ventral disc forms a continuous perimeter seal with the substrate, a cytological indication that trophozoites are fully attached. Using trophozoites with two types of molecularly engineered defects in flagellar beating, we determined that neither ventral flagellar beating, nor any flagellar beating, is necessary for the maintenance of attachment. Following a morpholino-based knockdown of PF16, a central pair protein, both the beating and morphology of flagella were defective, but trophozoites could still initiate proper surface contacts as seen using TIRFM and could maintain attachment in several biophysical assays. Trophozoites with impaired motility were able to attach as well as motile cells. We also generated a strain with defects in the ventral flagellar waveform by overexpressing a dominant negative form of alpha2-annexin::GFP (D122A, D275A). This dominant negative alpha2-annexin strain could initiate attachment and had only a slight decrease in the ability to withstand normal and shear forces. The time needed for attachment did increase in trophozoites with overall defective flagellar beating, however. Thus while not directly required for attachment, flagellar motility is important for positioning and orienting trophozoites prior to attachment. Drugs affecting flagellar motility may result in lower levels of attachment by indirectly limiting the number of parasites that can position the ventral disc properly against a surface and against peristaltic flow.