Defective cilia can lead to a host of diseases and conditions in the human body--from rare, inherited bone malformations to blindness, male infertility, kidney disease (e.g., polycystick kidney disease [PKD]), and obesity. Scientists knew that somehow these tiny cell organelles become deformed and cause these diseases because of a problem related to their assembly, which requires the translocation of vast quantities of the vital cell protein tubulin. What they didn't know was how tubulin and another cell organelle known as flagella fit into the process. Now, a new study from University of Georgia (UGA) cell biologists shows the mechanism behind tubulin transport and its assembly into cilia, including the first video imagery of the process (http://jcb.rupress.org/site/biosights/biosights_jan_19_2015.xhtml). The study was published online on January 12, 2015 in the Journal of Cell Biology. "Cilia are found throughout the body, so defects in cilia formation affect cells that line airways, brain ventricles, or the reproductive track," said the study's lead author Julie Craft, a sixth-year doctoral student at UGA. "One of the main causes of male infertility is the cilia won't function properly," Ms. Craft said. An interdisciplinary team from the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the UGA College of Engineering collaborated on the research, which used total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to analyze moving protein particles inside the cilia of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a green alga widely used as a model for cilia analysis. The team exploited the natural behavior of the organism--which is to attach by its cilia to a smooth surface, such as a microscope glass cover.
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