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Development and disease of the photoreceptor cilium


  • V Ramamurthy,

    1. Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), Cellular Neurobiology Research Unit, Montréal, QC, Canada
    2. Division of Experimental Medicine
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  • M Cayouette

    Corresponding author
    1. Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), Cellular Neurobiology Research Unit, Montréal, QC, Canada
    2. Département de Médecine, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
    3. Division of Experimental Medicine
    4. Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
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Michel Cayouette, Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), Montréal, QC, Canada.
Tel.: 514-987-5757;
fax: 514-987-5761;


Primary cilia are microtubule-rich hair-like extensions protruding from the surface of most post-mitotic cells. They act as sensory organelles that help interpret various environmental cues. Mutations in genes encoding proteins involved in ciliogenesis or protein transport to the primary cilia lead to a wide variety of diseases commonly referred to as ciliopathies, which include primary ciliary dyskinesia, situs invertus, hydrocephalus, kidney diseases, respiratory diseases, and retinal degenerations. In the retina, the photoreceptor cells have a highly specialized primary cilium called the outer segment (OS), which is essential for photosensation. Development of the photoreceptor OS shares key regulatory mechanisms with ciliogenesis in other cell types. Accumulating evidence indicates that mutations that affect OS development and/or protein transport to the OS generally lead to photoreceptor degeneration, which can be accompanied by a range of other clinical manifestations due to the dysfunction of primary cilia in different cell types. Here, we review the general mechanisms regulating ciliogenesis, and present different examples of mutations affecting OS ciliogenesis and protein transport that lead to photoreceptor degeneration. Overall, we conclude that the genetic and molecular evidence accumulated in recent years suggest a clear link between the development and function of the primary cilium and various clinical conditions. Future studies aimed at uncovering the cellular and molecular mechanisms implicated in ciliogenesis in a wide variety of animal models should greatly increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of many human diseases, including retinal degenerations.