Spirochaetes are spiral or flat-wave–shaped Gram-negative bacteria that have periplasmic flagella between the peptidoglycan layer and outer membrane. Rotation of the periplasmic flagella transforms the cell body shape periodically, allowing the cell to swim in aqueous environments. Because the virulence of motility-deficient mutants of pathogenic species is drastically attenuated, motility is thought to be an essential virulence factor in spirochaetes. However, it remains unknown how motility practically contributes to the infection process. We show here that the cell body configuration and motility of the zoonotic spirochaete Leptospira changes depending on the viscosity of the medium. Leptospira swim and reverse the swimming direction by transforming the cell body. Motility analysis showed that the frequency of cell shape transformation was increased by increasing the viscosity of the medium. The increased cell body transformation induced highly frequent reversal of the swimming direction. A simple kinetic model based on the experimental results shows that the viscosityinduced increase in reversal limits cell migration, resulting in the accumulation of cells in high-viscosity regions. This behaviour could facilitate the colonization of the spirochaete on host tissues covered with mucosa.
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