The sliding tubule model of ciliary motion requires that active sliding of microtubules occur by cyclic cross-bridging of the dynein arms. When isolated, demembranated Tetrahymena cilia are allowed to spontaneously disintegrate in the presence of ATP, the structural conformation of the dynein arms can be clearly resolved by negative contrast electron microscopy. The arms consist of three structural subunits that occur in two basic conformations with respect to the adjacent B subfiber. The inactive conformation occurs in the absence of ATP and is characterized by a uniform, 32 degrees base-directed polarity of the arms. Inactive arms are not attached to the B subfiber of adjacent doublets. The bridged conformation occurs strictly in the presence of ATP and is characterized by arms having the same polarity as inactive arms, but the terminal subunit of the arms has become attached to the B subfiber. In most instances the bridged conformation is accompanied by substantial tip-directed sliding displacement of the bridged doublets. Because the base-directed polarity of the bridged arms is opposite to the direction required for force generation in these cilia and because the bridges occur in the presence of ATP, it is suggested that the bridged conformation may represent the initial attachment phase of the dynein cross-bridge cycle. The force-generating phase of the cycle would then require a tip-directed deflection of the arm subunit attached to the B subfiber.

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