We have studied the phase component of flagellar beating by holding the head of a sea urchin sperm in the tip of a sinusoidally vibrating micropipet and then abruptly displacing the pipet laterally at a speed of 2.5 μm/ms for various durations. This rapid displacement of the pipet delayed the initiation of the next bend for as long as the displacement continued, up to a duration of 1 beat cycle, corresponding to a delay of 0.5 beat cycle. At the end of this displacement, the movement of the pipet was stopped completely without resumption of the initial vibration. Analysis of the flagellar waveform showed that immediately when the pipet was stopped, the flagellum started to beat by spontaneously initiating the bend that had been delayed. The flagellum then continued steady-state beating, with normal waveform and a new phase that was independent of the original phase of beating. These data suggest that the information on the phase of beating is located only at the basal end of the flagellum, and not in oscillators distributed along the axoneme. After this information has been lost, the flagellum can resume beating at any arbitrary phase relative to its original phase.
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