The primary cilium is an "hair-like" structure protruding from most mammalian cells and cells of many other metazoans. It serves as a sensor for growth factors and mechanical impacts. Like an antenna or GPS, it helps motile cells locate the source of these signals and move toward or away from them. This function in cell migration is critical for closing wounds or forming tissue layers during embryo development. In many non-motile cells, specialized primary cilia are important for sensing light, odorants, or fluid shear stress. The current project will determine how the formation of primary cilia is regulated, which is important to understand its function.
The P.I.'s group is interested in the regulation of the primary cilium by lipids. Lipids are fat-soluble components of the cell membrane. The P.I. has found that one of these lipids, ceramide, is particularly important for the protrusion of the membrane when the cilium is formed. Ceramide is incorporated into a complex with proteins, which drives the formation of the primary cilium. The P.I.'s research project will determine how ceramide is generated and which ceramide-protein complexes are important for cilium formation and function.
Broader impact The results from this project will open a novel field in the biological function of lipid cell signaling and will advance our knowledge across different fields. This project will foster the academic career of at least two graduate students and encourage the enrollment of minority students from a partnering community college into the PhD program of the P.I.'s institution. The P.I. collaborates with a local painter to visualize science through art, which is an exciting avenue to ignite the interest of the public in scientific education and research.