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Cilia and signal transduction

Group leader Gert Jansen

Accurate detection of cues in the environment is essential for the survival of all organisms. The same holds true for all cells. Based on signals from their environment and internal cues, cells decide to divide, migrate, differentiate, live or die. Each cell or cell type expresses a particular set of receptors and channels, making them sensitive to particular cues. Many receptors and channels are located on the plasma membrane of the cell, but some localize to a specialized sensory organelle, the primary cilium.
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cilium mammalian cell and C. elegans

Left panel: Cilium of IMCD3 cell visualized by anti-acetylated tubulin staining (red).
Right panels: Head of C. elegans and cilium of one of the sensory neurons visualized using GFP. Positions of cell bodies of neurons are indicated with colored circles.

Primary cilia are present on nearly all cells of the vertebrate body and extend from the cell’s surface. They harbor specific receptors, channels and other signaling molecules depending on the cell type. Important examples of signaling routes that use cilia are Hh, Wnt, PDGF, IGF, EGF, FGF, TGFβ, Notch, vasopressin, polycystin, somatostatin, serotonin and dopamine signaling.

Given the large number of signaling routes that use cilia and their presence on almost all vertebrate cells, it’s not surprising that cilia dysfunction is the cause of many diseases and can result in different symptoms including infertility, polydactyly, retina degeneration, mental retardation, obesity and kidney cyst formation. Together these diseases are called ciliopathies.

Research interest
We are interested in the interplay between cilia and signaling. On the one hand, we would like to understand how cilia are build and how their length and morphology are regulated, among others by environmental signals. On the other hand, we study cilium function, how cilia form a platform for detection of cues and signaling and regulate the sensory capacity of cells and organisms.

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