Microtubule doublets are double-track railways for intraflagellar transport trains

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Science  06 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6286, pp. 721-724
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4594

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Cilia contain a well-ordered array of microtubule doublets along their length. A longstanding question in cilium structure and function is why the microtubule arrangement in cilia is so complex. Stepanek and Pigino developed a time-resolved correlative fluorescence and three-dimensional electron microscopy method to show that the doublets provide directionality to intraflagellar transport. One microtubule in the pair moves cargoes up to the ciliary tip. Meanwhile, the other microtubule moves cargoes back to the cell body. These results explain why the axoneme is built out of microtubule doublets and suggest a mechanistic picture of how the logistics of bidirectional intraflagellar transport are regulated.

Science, this issue p. 721


The cilium is a large macromolecular machine that is vital for motility, signaling, and sensing in most eukaryotic cells. Its conserved core structure, the axoneme, contains nine microtubule doublets, each comprising a full A-microtubule and an incomplete B-microtubule. However, thus far, the function of this doublet geometry has not been understood. We developed a time-resolved correlative fluorescence and three-dimensional electron microscopy approach to investigate the dynamics of intraflagellar transport (IFT) trains, which carry ciliary building blocks along microtubules during the assembly and disassembly of the cilium. Using this method, we showed that each microtubule doublet is used as a bidirectional double-track railway: Anterograde IFT trains move along B-microtubules, and retrograde trains move along A-microtubules. Thus, the microtubule doublet geometry provides direction-specific rails to coordinate bidirectional transport of ciliary components.

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