Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics

Review Article

Bacterial flagellar motor

Yoshiyuki Sowaa1 and Richard M. Berrya1 c1

a1 Clarendon Laboratory, Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK


The bacterial flagellar motor is a reversible rotary nano-machine, about 45 nm in diameter, embedded in the bacterial cell envelope. It is powered by the flux of H+ or Na+ ions across the cytoplasmic membrane driven by an electrochemical gradient, the proton-motive force or the sodium-motive force. Each motor rotates a helical filament at several hundreds of revolutions per second (hertz). In many species, the motor switches direction stochastically, with the switching rates controlled by a network of sensory and signalling proteins. The bacterial flagellar motor was confirmed as a rotary motor in the early 1970s, the first direct observation of the function of a single molecular motor. However, because of the large size and complexity of the motor, much remains to be discovered, in particular, the structural details of the torque-generating mechanism. This review outlines what has been learned about the structure and function of the motor using a combination of genetics, single-molecule and biophysical techniques, with a focus on recent results and single-molecule techniques.