Relatively little is known about the functions of central-pair microtubules (Tamm, S. L., and G. A. Horridge, 1970, Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B, 175: 219-233; Omoto, C. K., and C. Kung, 1979, Nature (Lond.). 279:532-534) and radial spokes (Warner, F. D., and P. Satir, 1974, J. Cell Biol., 63:35-63), although a sliding microtubule mechanism has been established for the flagellar movement (Summers, K. E., and I. R. Gibbons, 1971, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA., 68:3092-3096). In the present report, an attempt was made to determine the functions of central-pair microtubules in flagellar motility. Central-pair microtubules were found to extrude from the tips of elastase-digested axonemes of demembranated Chlamydomonas flagella after the addition of ATP. The length of the extruded central-pair microtubules was approximately 70-100% that of the axoneme. After extrusion, axonemes continued to swim slowly backwards in the reactivation medium, with a trailing central pair attached like a tail to the flagellar tip. During bending movement of the axonemes, partially extruded central pairs rotated counterclockwise about the axoneme axis, as viewed from the distal end (Kamiya, R., 1982, Cell Motil. [Suppl.]:169-173). Axonemes swam backwards with a symmetric waveform and a beat frequency of approximately 10 Hz in the reactivation medium containing 10(-9)-10(-4) M Ca ions. Even at a lower Ca++ concentration, no ciliary-type swimming was noted on the axonemes.

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