During mating of the alga Chlamydomonas, two biflagellate cells fuse to form a single quadriflagellate cell that contains two nuclei and a common cytoplasm. We have used this cell fusion during mating to transfer unassembled flagellar components from the cytoplasm of one Chlamydomonas cell into that of another in order to study in vivo the polarity of flagellar assembly. In the first series of experiments, sites of tubulin addition onto elongating flagellar axonemes were determined. Donor cells that had two full-length flagella and were expressing an epitope-tagged alpha-tubulin construct were mated (fused) with recipient cells that had two half-length flagella. Outgrowth of the shorter pair of flagella followed, using a common pool of precursors that now included epitope-tagged tubulin, resulting in quadriflagellates with four full-length flagella. Immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy using an antiepitope antibody showed that both the outer doublet and central pair microtubules of the recipient cells' flagellar axonemes elongate solely by addition of new subunits at their distal ends. In a separate series of experiments, the polarity of assembly of a class of axonemal microtubule-associated structures, the radial spokes, was determined. Wild-type donor cells that had two full-length, motile flagella were mated with paralyzed recipient cells that had two full-length, radial spokeless flagella. Within 90 min after cell fusion, the previously paralyzed flagella became motile. Immunofluorescence microscopy using specific antiradial spoke protein antisera showed that radial spoke proteins appeared first at the tips of spokeless axonemes and gradually assembled toward the bases. Together, these results suggest that both tubulin and radial spoke proteins are transported to the tip of the flagellum before their assembly into flagellar structure.

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