La Jolla, CA Cilia, tiny hair-like structures that propel mucus out of airways, have to agree on the direction of the fluid flow to get things moving. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies discovered a novel two-step mechanism that ensures that all cilia beat in unison.
Their study, published in Nature, reveals that during early embryonic development, cilia point more or less in the general direction of the body's back end and start creating a weak flow. During the following refinement phase, all cilia get in line and trim their sails to the prevailing winds.
"The posterior bias allows ciliated cells to produce a directional fluid flow, which then acts in a positive feedback loop," says Christopher R. Kintner, Ph.D., a professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, who led the study. "As cilia produce this flow, they sense although we don't know yet how the direction of the flow, and then re-orient themselves to optimize it."
Their findings also explain the frequently observed misalignment of cilia in primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), a disease that impairs ciliary flow. PCD results in recurring respiratory infections, middle ear infections, male infertility and in rare cases hydrocephaly.
Each mature ciliated cell has up to 200 cilia, which have to co-ordinate their movements to orient their effective stroke in the same direction as their cellmates and all the cilia on neighboring cells. Cilia movement is driven by an array of longitudinal microtubules arranged in 9 doublets around a central pair. A basal body anchors these microtubules inside the cell. A so-called basal foot, which invariably points in the direction of the effective stroke, juts out at the base of each cilium.
And although a lot is known about the structural details of cilia, the mechanism through which ciliated epithelia coordinate the direction of their strokes remained unknown. But before Kintner and his team coul
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