The organization of microtubular systems in the quadriflagellate unicell Polytomella agilis has been reconstructed by electron microscopy of serial sections, and the overall arrangement confirmed by immunofluorescent staining using antiserum directed against chick brain tubulin. The basal bodies of the four flagella are shown to be linked in two pairs of short fibers. Light microscopy of swimming cells indicates that the flagella beat in two synchronous pairs, with each pair exhibiting a breast-stroke-like motion. Two structurally distinct flagellar rootlets, one consisting of four microtubules in a 3 over 1 pattern and the other of a striated fiber over two microtubules, terminate between adjacent basal bodies. These rootlets diverge from the basal body region and extend toward the cell posterior, passing just beneath the plasma membrane. Near the anterior part of the cell, all eight rootlets serve as attachment sites for large numbers of cytoplasmic microtubules which occur in a single row around the circumference of the cell and closely parallel the cell shape. It is suggested that the flagellar rootless may function in controlling the patterning and the direction of cytoplasmic microtubule assembly. The occurrence of similar rootlet structures in other flagellates is briefly reviewed.

This content is only available as a PDF.