PLK4 drives centriole amplification and apical surface area expansion in multiciliated cells

Elife. 2022 Aug 15;11:e80643. doi: 10.7554/eLife.80643.


Multiciliated cells (MCCs) are terminally differentiated epithelia that assemble multiple motile cilia used to promote fluid flow. To template these cilia, MCCs dramatically expand their centriole content during a process known as centriole amplification. In cycling cells, the master regulator of centriole assembly Polo-like kinase 4 (PLK4) is essential for centriole duplication; however recent work has questioned the role of PLK4 in centriole assembly in MCCs. To address this discrepancy, we created genetically engineered mouse models and demonstrated that both PLK4 protein and kinase activity are critical for centriole amplification in MCCs. Tracheal epithelial cells that fail centriole amplification accumulate large assemblies of centriole proteins and do not undergo apical surface area expansion. These results show that the initial stages of centriole assembly are conserved between cycling cells and MCCs and suggest that centriole amplification and surface area expansion are coordinated events.

Keywords: Plk4; cell biology; centriole; cilia; deuterosome; mouse; multiciliated.

Plain language summary

Every day, we inhale thousands of viruses, bacteria and pollution particles. To protect against these threats, cells in our airways produce mucus that traps inhaled particles before they reach the lungs. This mucus then needs to be removed to prevent it from becoming a breeding ground for microbes that may cause a respiratory infection. This is the responsibility of cells covered in tiny hair-like structures called cilia that move together to propel the mucus-trapped particles out of the airways. These specialized cells can have up to 300 motile cilia on their surface, which grow from structures called centrioles that then anchor the cilia in place. Multiciliated cells are generated from precursor cells that only have two centrioles. Therefore, as these precursors develop, they must produce large numbers of centrioles, considerably more than other cells that only need a couple of extra centrioles during cell division. However, recent studies have questioned whether the precursors of multiciliated cells rely on the same regulatory proteins to produce centrioles as dividing cells. To help answer this question, LoMastro et al. created genetically engineered mice that lacked or had an inactive form of PLK4, a protein which controls centriole formation in all cell types lacking multiple cilia. This showed that multiciliated cells also need this protein to produce centrioles. LoMastro et al. also found that multiciliated cells became larger while building centrioles, suggesting that this amplification process helps control the cell’s final size. Defects in motile cilia activity can lead to fluid build-up in the brain, respiratory infections and infertility. Unfortunately, these disorders are difficult to diagnose currently and there is no cure. The findings of LoMastro et al. further our understanding of how motile cilia are built and maintained, and may help future scientists to develop better diagnostic tools and treatments for patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Centrioles* / metabolism
  • Cilia* / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Mice


  • Cell Cycle Proteins