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Cilia - the prodigal organelle

Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1186/2046-2530-1-1
  • Editorial
  • Medicine


Cilia - the prodigal organelle EDITORIAL Open Access Cilia - the prodigal organelle Phil Beales1* and Peter K Jackson2 Cilia are the oldest known cellular organelle, first described in 1675 by Anthony van Leeuwenhoek in proto- zoa [1]. He described them as ‘incredibly thin feet, or little legs, which were moved very nimbly’. The term ‘cilium’ (Latin for eyelash) was probably first coined by Otto Mul- ler in 1786 [2]. Structurally and functionally similar to eukaryotic flagella, cilia were originally defined by their motility and for many decades this was their only ascribed purpose. During the latter half of the 19th century came the observation of another class of solitary cilium, which for the most-part was non-motile [3-5]. Zimmerman, who first described ‘centralgeissel’ (central flagella) in mamma- lian cells also proposed a sensory role for them, but they received little attention thereafter [5]. The organelle was renamed ‘primary cilia’ in 1968 [6] because the primary cilium was noted to appear first before multiciliated cells appear in the central nervous system. But their function remained elusive until this past decade. In fact, the revela- tion that primary cilia have a sensory role, signalling to the cell interior external cues which underlie many human diseases, has somewhat eclipsed research into motile cilia. This split with two cilia categories is however, short lived as more recent evidence indicates that, as long suspected, motile cilia/flagella also have sensory potential (see [7] for a review). So why establish a journal devoted to this once forgot- ten organelle? The reasons are simple: interest and importance. In 1997-1998 there were a handful of publi- cations citing work on primary cilia with the main focus on olfactory receptors (Figure 1). That year however, saw the publication of Nonaka and Hirokawa’s seminal paper on nodal cilia and left-right asymmetry which helped kick-start the field [8]. The year 1998 also produced the classic purification of the in

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