Cilia are highly evolutionarily conserved, microtubule-based cell protrusions present in eukaryotic organisms from protists to humans, with the exception of fungi and higher plants. Cilia can be broadly divided into non-motile sensory cilia, called primary cilia, and motile cilia, which are locomotory organelles. The skeleton (axoneme) of primary cilia is formed by nine outer doublet microtubules distributed on the cilium circumference. In contrast, the skeleton of motile cilia is more complex: in addition to outer doublets, it is composed of two central microtubules and several diverse multi-protein complexes that are distributed periodically along both types of microtubules. For many years, researchers have endeavored to fully characterize the protein composition of ciliary macro-complexes and the molecular basis of signal transduction between these complexes. Genetic and biochemical analyses have suggested that several hundreds of proteins could be involved in the assembly and function of motile cilia. Within the last several years, the combined efforts of researchers using cryo-electron tomography, genetic and biochemical approaches, and diverse model organisms have significantly advanced our knowledge of the ciliary structure and protein composition. Here, we summarize the recent progress in the identification of the subunits of ciliary complexes, their precise intraciliary localization determined by cryo-electron tomography data, and the role of newly identified proteins in cilia.
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