In order to generate the complex waveforms typical of beating cilia and flagella, the action of the dynein arms must be regulated. This regulation not only depends on the presence of multiple dynein isoforms, but also clearly involves other structures in the axoneme such as the radial spokes and central apparatus; mutants lacking these structures have paralyzed flagella. In this article, we review recent progress in identifying protein components of the central apparatus and discuss the role of these components in regulation of flagellar motility and central apparatus assembly. The central apparatus is composed of two single microtubules and their associated structures which include the central pair projections, the central pair bridges linking the two tubules, and the central pair caps which are attached to the distal or plus ends of the microtubules. To date, the genes encoding four components of the central apparatus have been cloned, PF15, PF16, PF20 and KLP1. PF16, PF20 and KLP1 have been sequenced and their gene products localized. Two additional components have been identified immunologically, a 110 kD polypeptide recognized by an antibody generated against highly conserved kinesin peptide sequence, and a 97 kD polypeptide recognized by CREST antisera. Based on a variety of data, one model that has emerged to explain the role of the central apparatus in flagellar motility is that the central apparatus ultimately regulates dynein through interactions with the radial spokes. The challenge now is to determine the precise mechanism by which the polypeptides comprising the central apparatus and the radial spokes interact to transduce a regulatory signal to the dynein arms. In terms of assembly, the central apparatus microtubules assemble with their plus ends distal to the cell body but, unlike the nine doublet microtubules, they are not nucleated from the basal bodies. Since some central apparatus defective mutants fail to assemble the entire central apparatus, their gene products may eventually prove to have microtubule nucleating or stabilizing properties. By continuing to identify the genes that encode central apparatus components, we will begin to understand the contribution of these microtubules to flagellar motility and gain insight into their nucleation, assembly, and stability.