In Nitella the protoplasm forms a layer about 15 microns thick surrounding a large central vacuole. The outer part of the protoplasm is a gel, the inner layer is a sol which is in continual motion travelling the entire length of the cell in opposite directions on opposite sides and thus making a complete circuit (cyclosis).
If we have a cell devoid of motion and if we regard the protoplasm in any region as made up of successive portions, A, B, C, D, etc., as we pass from left to right) we may suppose that a reaction starts in B which results in a temporary loss of volume by electrostriction, so that liquid moves from A to B to fill the void thus created. The same reaction then occurs at C causing liquid to flow from B to C and so on.
The protoplasmic movement can be controlled by agents which affect the viscosity of the protoplasm or the reactions which cause the flow. Certain reagents such as lead acetate stop the flow temporarily.
When the motion is stopped in any region by killing or by applying lead acetate, the motion goes on for a time in adjoining regions. When motion stops in all of the cell or in certain parts, it resumes in the same direction as it had before stoppage occurred. Under normal conditions each of the two sides of the cell (on opposite sides of the white line) has its own characteristic direction of motion which remains unchanged after a temporary stoppage of motion in all parts of the cell. Hence the two sides differ and we have what may be called lateral polarity. There is also longitudinal polarity as the opposite ends of the cell are unlike since shoots grow out at one end and roots at the opposite end.
The explanation suggested to account for motion in Nitella may apply to other kinds of motion including the motion of cilia and of flagella.