Observing planar cell polarity in multiciliated mouse airway epithelial cells

Methods Cell Biol. 2015;127:37-54. doi: 10.1016/bs.mcb.2015.01.016. Epub 2015 Mar 7.


The concerted movement of cilia propels inhaled contaminants out of the lungs, safeguarding the respiratory system from toxins, pathogens, pollutants, and allergens. Motile cilia on the multiciliated cells (MCCs) of the airway epithelium are physically oriented along the tissue axis for directional motility, which depends on the planar cell polarity (PCP) signaling pathway. The MCCs of the mouse respiratory epithelium have emerged as an important model for the study of motile ciliogenesis and the PCP signaling mechanism. Unlike other motile ciliated or planar polarized tissues, airway epithelial cells are relatively easily accessible and primary cultures faithfully model many of the essential features of the in vivo tissue. There is growing interest in understanding how cells acquire and polarize motile cilia due to the impact of mucociliary clearance on respiratory health. Here, we present methods for observing and quantifying the planar polarized orientation of motile cilia both in vivo and in primary culture airway epithelial cells. We describe how to acquire and evaluate electron and light microscopy images of ciliary ultrastructural features that reveal planar polarized orientation. Furthermore, we describe the immunofluorescence localization of PCP pathway components as a simple readout for airway epithelial planar polarization and ciliary orientation. These methods can be adapted to observe ciliary orientation in other multi- and monociliated cells and to detect PCP pathway activity in any tissue or cell type.

Keywords: Ciliogenesis; De novo basal body formation; Inton retaining transcripts; Marsilea; Post-transcriptional regulation; Rapid development; Spermatogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / analysis
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Cilia / physiology*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique / methods
  • Frizzled Receptors / analysis
  • Lung / cytology
  • Lung / physiology
  • Membrane Proteins / analysis
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission / methods
  • Primary Cell Culture / methods
  • Respiratory Mucosa / cytology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Tissue Fixation / methods
  • Trachea / cytology*
  • Trachea / surgery


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Frizzled Receptors
  • Fzd6 protein, mouse
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Vangl1 protein, mouse