Many primary sensory cilia exhibit unique architectures that are critical for transduction of specific sensory stimuli. Although basic ciliogenic mechanisms are well described, how complex ciliary structures are generated remains unclear. Seminal work performed several decades ago provided an initial but incomplete description of diverse sensory cilia morphologies in C. elegans. To begin to explore the mechanisms that generate these remarkably complex structures, we have taken advantage of advances in electron microscopy and tomography, and reconstructed three-dimensional structures of fifty of sixty sensory cilia in the C. elegans adult hermaphrodite at high resolution. We characterize novel axonemal microtubule organization patterns, clarify structural features at the ciliary base, describe new aspects of cilia-glia interactions, and identify structures suggesting novel mechanisms of ciliary protein trafficking. This complete ultrastructural description of diverse cilia in C. elegans provides the foundation for investigations into underlying ciliogenic pathways, as well as contributions of defined ciliary structures to specific neuronal functions. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01948.001.
Keywords: cilia; electron microscopy; electron tomography.