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Science 325 (5944): 1131-1134

Copyright © 2009 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Motile Cilia of Human Airway Epithelia Are Chemosensory

Alok S. Shah,1,* Yehuda Ben-Shahar,1,2,*,{dagger} Thomas O. Moninger,1 Joel N. Kline,1 Michael J. Welsh1,2,3,{ddagger}

Abstract: Cilia are microscopic projections that extend from eukaryotic cells. There are two general types of cilia; primary cilia serve as sensory organelles, whereas motile cilia exert mechanical force. The motile cilia emerging from human airway epithelial cells propel harmful inhaled material out of the lung. We found that these cells express sensory bitter taste receptors, which localized on motile cilia. Bitter compounds increased the intracellular calcium ion concentration and stimulated ciliary beat frequency. Thus, airway epithelia contain a cell-autonomous system in which motile cilia both sense noxious substances entering airways and initiate a defensive mechanical mechanism to eliminate the offending compound. Hence, like primary cilia, classical motile cilia also contain sensors to detect the external environment.

1 Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.
2 Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.
3 Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.

* These authors contributed equally to this work.

{dagger} Present address: Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.

{ddagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: michael-welsh{at}

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