To clarify the functional differentiation between the outer and inner dynein arms in eukaryotic flagella, their mechanochemical properties were assessed by measuring the sliding velocities of outer-doublet microtubules in disintegrating axonemes of Chlamydomonas, using wild-type and mutant strains that lack either of the arms. A special procedure was developed to induce sliding disintegration in Chlamydomonas axonemes which is difficult to achieve by ordinary methods. The flagella were first fragmented by sonication, demembranated by Nonidet P-40, and then perfused under a microscope with Mg-ATP and nagarse, a bacterial protease with broad substrate specificity. The sliding velocity varied with the Mg-ATP concentration in a Michaelis-Menten manner in the axonemes from the wild type and a motile mutant lacking the outer dynein arm (oda38). The maximal sliding velocity and apparent Michaelis constant for Mg-ATP were measured to be 13.2 +/- 1.0 micron/s and 158 +/- 36 microM for the wild type and 2.0 +/- 0.1 micron/s and 64 +/- 18 microM for oda38. These maximal sliding velocities were significantly smaller than those estimated in beating axonemes; the reason is not clear. The velocities in the presence or absence of 10(-5) M Ca2+ did not differ noticeably. The axonemes of nonmotile mutants lacking either outer arms (pf13A, pf22) or inner arms (pf23) were examined for their ability to undergo sliding disintegration in the presence of 0.1 mM Mg-ATP. Whereas pf13A axonemes underwent normal sliding disintegration, the other two species displayed it only very poorly. The poor ability of pf23 axonemes to undergo sliding disintegration raises the possibility that the outer dynein arm cannot function well in the absence of the inner arm.

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