Cilia - The Sensory Antennae in the Eye

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2017 Sep;60:144-180. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2017.05.001. Epub 2017 May 11.


Cilia are hair-like projections found on almost all cells in the human body. Originally believed to function merely in motility, the function of solitary non-motile (primary) cilia was long overlooked. Recent research has demonstrated that primary cilia function as signalling hubs that sense environmental cues and are pivotal for organ development and function, tissue hoemoestasis, and maintenance of human health. Cilia share a common anatomy and their diverse functional features are achieved by evolutionarily conserved functional modules, organized into sub-compartments. Defects in these functional modules are responsible for a rapidly growing list of human diseases collectively termed ciliopathies. Ocular pathogenesis is common in virtually all classes of syndromic ciliopathies, and disruptions in cilia genes have been found to be causative in a growing number of non-syndromic retinal dystrophies. This review will address what is currently known about cilia contribution to visual function. We will focus on the molecular and cellular functions of ciliary proteins and their role in the photoreceptor sensory cilia and their visual phenotypes. We also highlight other ciliated cell types in tissues of the eye (e.g. lens, RPE and Müller glia cells) discussing their possible contribution to disease progression. Progress in basic research on the cilia function in the eye is paving the way for therapeutic options for retinal ciliopathies. In the final section we describe the latest advancements in gene therapy, read-through of non-sense mutations and stem cell therapy, all being adopted to treat cilia dysfunction in the retina.

Keywords: Cilia; Ciliopathy; Degeneration; Eye; Retina; Therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cilia / physiology*
  • Eye / cytology
  • Eye Diseases / pathology
  • Eye Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Eye Diseases / therapy
  • Humans
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*