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In early embryos, cilia get the message across

LA JOLLA, CA - Having your heart in the right place usually means having it located on the left side of your body. But just how a perfectly symmetrical embryo settles on what's right and what's left has fascinated developmental biologists for a long time. The turning point came when the rotational beating of cilia, hair-like structures found on most cells, was identified as essential to the process.

Now, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies take a step back and illuminate the molecular process that regulates formation of cilia in early fish embryos. In a study published in a forthcoming issue of Nature Genetics, the Salk team, led by Juan Carlos Izpisa Belmonte, Ph.D., a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, identified a novel factor that links early developmental signals with the function of cilia and their role in controlling left-right specification in zebrafish.

"When we altered the function of the gene duboraya, we saw problems with cilia formation, although the gene product itself is not a part of the structure. This opens up a new area of research," says Belmonte.

Cilia have been known to cell biologists for over a hundred years. Belmonte is convinced that these humble structures, which have until recently been ignored by physiologists and molecular biologists alike, are poised to take center stage in the field of biology. Explains Belmonte: "When you impair the function of cilia or the flow of cilia, you create substantial problems throughout the body."

These simple, whip-like structures are not only critically involved in specifying left-right sidedness during development, but they help move fluid and mucus around the brain, lung, eye and kidney, and are required for smell, sight and reproduction. Medical conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have been linked to structural defects in the architecture or in function of cilia. Moreover, recent evidence indicates that cilia may have additio
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-4100 x1340
Salk Institute
19-Oct-2006


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