Cooling of cilia allows functional analysis of the beat pattern for diagnostic testing

Chest. 2011 Jul;140(1):186-190. doi: 10.1378/chest.10-1920. Epub 2010 Dec 30.


Background: Reports of the effect of low temperatures on ciliary beat frequency (CBF) are conflicting, and the effect on ciliary beat pattern has not been reported. We aimed to clarify this association and determine whether cooling of cilia may allow ciliary function to be assessed without the need of expensive high-speed video microscopy.

Methods: Fourteen nasal brush biopsy samples were collected, and the CBF and beat pattern of undisrupted ciliated edges were evaluated. Two methods were used to strictly control changes in temperature: One enabled rapid transitory measurements during cooling and warming, and the other was used to maintain accurate low temperatures over longer periods of time.

Results: A sigmoid relationship between CBF and temperature was observed. CBF decreased with cooling and increased with warming. Ciliary function was unaffected by the direction of temperature change and was maintained down to 2°C. The percentage of dyskinetic cilia observed at 2°C or 4°C was unchanged from that at 37°C.

Conclusions: Contrary to previous research, our data show that cilia continue to beat with a normal pattern at temperatures as low as 2°C. Slowing of cilia by cooling may allow detailed analysis of ciliary beat pattern without the need of expensive high-speed video microscopy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cilia / physiology*
  • Cilia / ultrastructure
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Video
  • Mucociliary Clearance / physiology*
  • Nasal Mucosa / cytology
  • Nasal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Young Adult