We have shed new light on the behaviour of tiny hair-like structures called cilia found on almost every cell in the body. Cilia play important roles in human development and disease. Akin to tiny antennae, they act as cell timers keeping the brakes on cell division until the right growth cues are received. Malfunction of cilia leads to many human diseases such as polycystic kidney disease and cancer.
In our latest collaborative study published in Developmental Cell, together with other researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Lancaster, we have developed a multi-component fluorescent biosensor that allows users to ‘light up’ both cilia and cells that are actively dividing simultaneously. This is important because the machinery that drives cilia growth and cell division are shared.
This powerful new tool will allow us to investigate cilia function in human disease in unprecedented detail. Cilia are important in embryonic development shaping the size of organs, like our brains and lungs. However in adults both loss and hyperactivity in these crucial signalling centres is implicated in cancer cell proliferation and migration.
While it has long been known that the cilia and cell cycles are closely linked, studying these two processes in parallel has been difficult, particularly in disease relevant contexts. The new biosensor will allow researchers to carry out fundamental studies exploring how changes to cilia length and dynamics affect the speed of division and of tissue development.
Excitingly, this resource allows researchers to monitor with single cell resolution within complex tissues the interplay between the cilia and cell cycles in development, regeneration and disease. It is hoped these studies will help researchers build a more detailed picture of cilia in human disease and help monitor novel therapeutic approaches.
A Cell/Cilia Cycle Biosensor for Single-Cell Kinetics Reveals Persistence of Cilia after G1/S Transition Is a General Property in Cells and Mice. Developmental Cell DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.devcel.2018.10.027