The construction of cilia and flagella depends on intraflagellar transport (IFT), the bidirectional movement of two protein complexes (IFT-A and IFT-B) driven by specific kinesin and dynein motors. IFT-B and kinesin are associated to anterograde transport whereas IFT-A and dynein participate to retrograde transport. Surprisingly, the small GTPase IFT27, a member of the IFT-B complex, turns out to be essential for retrograde cargo transport in Trypanosoma brucei. We reveal that this is due to failure to import both the IFT-A complex and the IFT dynein into the flagellar compartment. To get further molecular insight about the role of IFT27, GDP- or GTP-locked versions were expressed in presence or absence of endogenous IFT27. The GDP-locked version is unable to enter the flagellum and to interact with other IFT-B proteins and its sole expression prevents flagellum formation. These findings demonstrate that a GTPase-competent IFT27 is required for association to the IFT complex and that IFT27 plays a role in the cargo loading of the retrograde transport machinery.
Long, thin structures called cilia and flagella are found on the surface of many cells, and perform a range of roles, including propelling the cells around or sensing changes in the surrounding environment. A process called intraflagellar transport (IFT for short) is responsible for flagellum construction in eukaryotic cells. Protein complexes called IFT trains carry the building blocks that make up flagella along microtubule ‘tracks’ between the base and the tip of a flagellum.
IFT trains are made from two different protein complexes called IFT-A and IFT-B, which are dragged by various molecular motors. The IFT-B complex is necessary for the train to move towards the tip of the flagellum, and so enables the flagellum to grow. The IFT-A protein complex is required to recycle the train back towards the base of the flagellum.
Huet et al. examined the role that a protein called IFT27 plays in intraflagellar transport. IFT27 is part of the IFT-B complex, and so it was thought to only affect how flagella grow. However, short flagella still grow when IFT27 is absent, but they are filled with IFT trains that are not able to reverse back from the tip. Huet et al. reveal that the IFT-A complex and the molecular motor that is essential for reversing the train are not transported into the flagellum if IFT27 is not present. This is therefore an unusual case of an IFT-B protein affecting the IFT-A complex and the transport back to the base.
IFT27 also affects how the IFT-B complex forms. ITF27 can bind to some small molecules, which can switch the protein ‘on’ or ‘off’. Huet et al. found that when IFT27 is switched off it is not transported into flagella, and also cannot bind to some of the other proteins in the IFT-B complex. This means that if IFT27 is locked in an inactive state, the IFT-B complex does not form, and a flagellum cannot grow. Therefore, activated IFT27 is needed for putting together the IFT train and to ensure its movement in either direction along the microtubule tracks.