Primary cilia are microtubule-based, hair-like sensory organelles present on the surface of most growth-arrested cells in our body. Recent research has demonstrated a crucial role for primary cilia in regulating vertebrate developmental pathways and tissue homeostasis, and defects in genes involved in primary cilia assembly or function have been associated with a panoply of disorders and diseases, including polycystic kidney disease, left-right asymmetry defects, hydrocephalus, and Bardet Biedl Syndrome. Here we provide an up-to-date review focused on the molecular mechanisms involved in the assembly of primary cilia in vertebrate cells. We present an overview of the early stages of the cilia assembly process, as well as a description of the intraflagellar transport (IFT) system. IFT is a highly conserved process required for assembly of almost all eukaryotic cilia and flagella, and much of our current knowledge about IFT is based on studies performed in Chlamydomonas and Caenorhabditis elegans. Therefore, our review of the IFT literature includes studies performed in these two model organisms. The role of several non-IFT proteins (e.g., centrosomal proteins) in the ciliary assembly process is also discussed.
Copyright (c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.