, Volume 72, Issue 2–3, pp 153–178 | Cite as

The structural elements responsible for contraction in the ciliateSpirostomum

  • William J. Lehman
  • Lionel I. Rebhun


The surface of the contractile ciliateSpirostomum contains continuous spiral ciliated grooves traversing its length. Bundles of microtubules run parallel to the base of the grooves and appear to be part of a cohesive, semi-rigid cortex. Beneath this, a network of microfilament bundles occurs which is attached to the peristomal membranelle apparatus, also part of the cortex. The possible roles played by these structures during contraction of the organism were examined.

During contraction, the entire cortex twists and the spiral arrangement of the grooves and microtubules decreases in pitch and increases in diameter. Simultaneously, the bundles of microfilaments change in distribution and appearance so as to suggest that they are undergoing an active shortening process. Based on these observations, two models for contraction are presented. In one, shortening of the animal arises from a smooth muscle-like contraction of the microfilament network whose attachment to the basal bodies of the membranellar cilia guarantees shortening and widening of the cortex and consequently the whole animal. In the second, a shortening (or sliding) of external microtubules relative to internal ones in the cortical microtubule bundles would result in an increase in diameter, a decrease in pitch, and a decrease in axial length of the bundles, resulting in contraction of the animal. The observations do not allow a choice between these alternatives to be made, and they may not, in fact, be mutually exclusive.


Axial Length Basal Body Cortical Microtubule Microtubule Bundle Microfilament Bundle 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1971

Authors and Affiliations

  • William J. Lehman
    • 1
  • Lionel I. Rebhun
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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