Jeremy Reiter, MD, PhD
It is now becoming clear that the primary cilium plays important roles in both development and disease. Perhaps its most dramatic function is in the kidney - ciliary defects cause polycystic kidney disease, the most common life-threatening monogenic illness. Primary cilia also have roles in sensing environmental information. Photoreceptors and odorant receptors function on primary cilia, and primary cilia are essential for sound reception. Therefore, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that we see, smell and hear through cilia.
Our work suggests that cilia also function as critical mediators of intercellular signals during development (Corbit et al., 2005; May et al., 2005; Reiter and Skarnes, 2006) . One crucial role is in the coordination of the Hedgehog signal transduction pathway. Hedgehog signals are essential regulators of embryonic patterning and cell proliferation, and defects in Hedgehog signaling are important causes of both birth defects and many cancers. We are currently extending this work by asking a few fundamental questions about primary cilia:
- Do cilia transduce intercellular signals other than Hedgehog?
- How do cilia interpret signals essential to vertebrate development?
- Do cilia participate in Hedgehog-mediated oncogenesis?
- How do cells regulate whether they form a cilium?