The switching dynamics of the bacterial flagellar motor
Many bacteria are propelled by flagellar motors that stochastically switch between the clockwise and counterclockwise rotation direction. Although the switching dynamics is one of their most important characteristics, the mechanisms that control it are poorly understood. We present a statistical–mechanical model of the bacterial flagellar motor. At its heart is the assumption that the rotor protein complex, which is connected to the flagellum, can exist in two conformational states and that switching between these states depends on the interactions with the stator proteins, which drive the rotor. This couples switching to rotation, making the switch sensitive to torque and speed. Another key element is that after a switch, it takes time for the load to build up, due to conformational transitions of the flagellum. This slow relaxation dynamics of the filament leads, in combination with the load dependence of the switching frequency, to a characteristic switching time, as recently observed. Hence, our model predicts that the switching dynamics is not only controlled by the chemotaxis-signaling network, but also by mechanical feedback of the flagellum.