Dynein light chain 1 (LC1/DNAL1) is one of the most highly conserved components of ciliary axonemal outer arm dyneins, and it associates with both a heavy chain motor unit and tubulin located within the A-tubule of the axonemal outer doublet microtubules. In a variety of model systems, lack of LC1 or expression of mutant forms leads to profound defects in ciliary motility, including the failure of the hydrodynamic coupling needed for ciliary metachronal synchrony, random stalling during the power/recovery stroke transition, an aberrant response to imposed viscous load, and in some cases partial failure of motor assembly. These phenotypes have led to the proposal that LC1 acts as part of a mechanical switch to control motor function in response to alterations in axonemal curvature. Here we have used NMR chemical shift mapping to define the regions perturbed by a series of mutations in the C-terminal domain that yield a range of phenotypic effects on motility. In addition, we have identified the subdomain of LC1 involved in binding microtubules and characterized the consequences of an Asn → Ser alteration within the terminal leucine-rich repeat that in humans causes primary ciliary dyskinesia. Together, these data define a series of functional subdomains within LC1 and allow us to propose a structural model for the organization of the dynein heavy chain-LC1-microtubule ternary complex that is required for the coordinated activity of dynein motors in cilia.