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Revealing the Molecular Structure and the Transport Mechanism at the Base of Primary Cilia Using Superresolution STED Microscopy

Yang, Tung-Lin

The primary cilium is an organelle that serves as a signaling center of the cell and is involved in the hedgehog signaling, cAMP pathway, Wnt pathways, etc. Ciliary function relies on the transportation of molecules between the primary cilium and the cell, which is facilitated by intraflagellar transport (IFT). IFT88, one of the important IFT proteins in complex B, is known to play a role in the formation and maintenance of cilia in various types of organisms. The ciliary transition zone (TZ), which is part of the gating apparatus at the ciliary base, is home to a large number of ciliopathy molecules. Recent studies have identified important regulating elements for TZ gating in cilia. However, the architecture of the TZ region and its arrangement relative to intraflagellar transport (IFT) proteins remain largely unknown, hindering the mechanistic understanding of the regulation processes. One of the major challenges comes from the tiny volume at the ciliary base packed with numerous proteins, with the diameter of the TZ close to the diffraction limit of conventional microscopes. Using a series of stimulated emission depletion (STED) superresolution images mapped to electron microscopy images, we analyzed the structural organization of the ciliary base. Subdiffraction imaging of TZ components defines novel geometric distributions of RPGRIP1L, MKS1, CEP290, TCTN2 and TMEM67, shedding light on their roles in TZ structure, assembly, and function. We found TCTN2 at the outmost periphery of the TZ close to the ciliary membrane, with a 227±18 nm diameter. TMEM67 was adjacent to TCTN2, with a 205±20 nm diameter. RPGRIP1L was localized toward the axoneme at the same axial level as TCTN2 and TMEM67, with a 165±8 nm diameter. MKS1 was situated between TMEM67 and RPGRIP1L, with an 186±21 nm diameter. Surprisingly, CEP290 was localized at the proximal side of the TZ close to the distal end of the centrin-labeled basal body. The lateral width was unexpectedly close to the width of the basal body, distant from the potential Y-links region of the TZ. Moreover, IFT88 was intriguingly distributed in two distinct patterns, forming three puncta or a Y shape at the ciliary base found in human retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE), human fibroblasts (HFF), mouse inner medullary collecting duct (IMCD) cells and mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs). We hypothesize that the two distribution states of IFT88 correspond to the open and closed gating states of the TZ, where IFT particles aggregate to form three puncta when the gate is closed, and move to form the branches of the Y-shape pattern when the gate is open. Two reservoirs of IFT particles, correlating with phases of ciliary growth, were localized relative to the internal structure of the TZ. These subdiffraction images reveal unprecedented architectural details of the TZ, providing a basic structural framework for future functional studies. To visualize the dynamic movement of IFT particles within primary cilia, we further conducted superresolution live-cell imaging of IFT88 fused to EYFP in IMCD cells. Our findings, in particular, show IFT88 particles pass through the TZ at a reduced speed by approximately 50%, implying the gating mechanism is involved at this region to slow down IFT trafficking. Finally, we report the distinct transport pathways of IFT88 and Smo (Smoothened), an essential player to hedgehog signaling, to support our hypothesis that two proteins are transported in different mechanisms at the ciliary base, based on dual-color superresolution imaging.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mechanical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Liao, Jung-Chi
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 22, 2014