Previous studies show that in the case of algae, motile cilia work like arms on a swimmer, to help algae reach sunlight, which they use to make sugar for energy and survival. Motile cilia can make 40-50 whip-like motions per second and are continuously being resorbed and replaced. These motile cilia also inhabit a type of support brain cell called ependymal cells; the cells that line the cavities of the brain containing cerebrospinal fluid which nourishes and cleanses the brain.
Earlier studies from the lab were the first to show that ceramide is present in these fast-moving algae cilia where it has likely been at work for a billion years. The group reasoned that algae, an old and simple plant, seemed a good first model to figure out what regulates cilia. Cilia in algae are comparatively big, about 10 times those in mammalian cells, so with just a regular microscope, the researchers could easily watch cilia movement. The current study showed that when they applied even a miniscule amount of a fungus toxin known to inhibit ceramide production, the usually agile algae stopped, the cilia shrank and some fell off.
The current study shows that one of the protein kinases that is highly conserved from Chlamydomonas to mammals and critical for ciliogenesis is glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3). The lab explain that in Chlamydomonas an GSK3 isoform regulates flagellar length. Results show that ceramide present in the cilia of human ependymal cells activates GSK3 to regulate cilia. The researchers conclude that in both algae and ependymal cells, the two can be found together and, without their teamwork, hydrocephalus, excess fluid on the brain, can result.
The team surmise that their findings suggest that if ceramide is one of the key regulators of cerebrospinal fluid movement, it may also be a drug target to help normalize the function of cilia. For the future, the researchers plan to visualize cilia movement in ependymal cells.
Source: University of Georgia
Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
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