The flagellum of the parasitic hemoflagellate Trypanosoma brucei contains two major structures: (a) the microtubule axoneme, and (b) a highly ordered, filamentous array, the paraflagellar rod (PFR). This is a complex, three-dimensional structure, of yet unknown function, that extends along most of the axoneme and is closely linked to it. Its major structural component is a single protein of 600 amino acids. This PFR protein can assume two different conformations, resulting in two distinct bands of apparent molecular masses of 73 and 69 kD in SDS-gel electrophoresis. Secondary structure predictions indicate a very high helix content. Despite its biochemical similarity to the intermediate filament proteins (solubility properties, amino acid composition, and high degree of helicity), the PFR protein does not belong in this class of cytoskeletal proteins. The PFR protein is coded for by two tandemly linked genes of identical nucleotide sequence. Both genes are transcribed into stable mRNAs of very similar length that carry the mini-exon sequence at their 5' termini.

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