• Chemotaxis;
  • Formylated peptides;
  • Selection;
  • Targeting;
  • Tetrahymena;
  • Phylogeny


The chemotactic effects of six formylated, putatively bacterial peptides (fMLP, fMLPP, fMMM, fMP, fMV, and fMS) were studied. From the set of six peptides, only fMLP (one of the most effective chemoattractant peptides in mammals) elicited a significant positive chemotactic response in the eukaryotic ciliate Tetrahymena pyriformis, while the other formylated ligands, e.g. fMMM (which is also effective in mammals), had neutral or antagonistic effects in Tetrahymena. A study of their amino acid sequences points to an, as yet obscure, interaction between C-terminal f-Met and N-terminal aromatic Phe. Some optimal physicochemical characteristics (e.g. solvent exposed area, solubility) of the molecule may be responsible for this special feature of f-MLP at such a low level of phylogeny. This means that the unicellular Tetrahymena is able to select between related molecules, giving high priority to the molecule that is the most chemoattractive in mammals. The results call attention to the possible presence of f-Met receptors at a unicellular level and to the evolutionary conservation of chemotaxis-activating processes.