Flagellar axonemes of sea urchin sperm display high-frequency (approximately 300 Hz) vibration with nanometer-scale amplitudes in the presence of ATP (Kamimura, S., and R. Kamiya. 1989. Nature (Lond.). 340:476-478). The vibration appears to represent normal mechanochemical interaction between dynein and microtubules because the dependence of the frequency on MgATP concentration is similar to that of the axonemal motility, and because it is inhibited by micromolar concentrations of vanadate. In this study a two-dimensional photo-sensor was used to characterize this phenomenon in detail. Several new features were revealed. First, the vibration was found to be due to a back-and-forth movement of the doublet microtubules along the axonemal length. Two beads attached to different parts of the same axoneme vibrated in unison, i.e., synchronized exactly in phase. This suggested that the outer doublet can be regarded as a stiff rod in vibrating axonemes. Second, evidence was obtained that the amplitude of the vibration reflected the number of active dynein arms. Third, under certain conditions, the vibration amplitude took stepwise values of 8 x N + 4 nm (N = 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4), indicating that the amplitude of microtubule sliding was limited by the size of tubulin dimer (8 nm) or monomer (4 nm). To explain this phenomenon, a model is presented based on an assumption that the force production by dynein is turned off when dynein is subjected to tensile force; i.e., dynein is assumed to be equipped with a feedback mechanism necessary for oscillation.

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