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Many, but likely most, neurons in the central nervous system have a nonmotile "primary" cilium extending like an antenna or finger from one of the pair of centrioles in the cell's centrosome into the extracellular space. Since their discovery over 100 years ago, these organelles have been either dismissed as functionless relicts of a bygone era or more often simply ignored. However, it has long been known that the photoreceptor-bearing outer segments of retinal rods and cones are modified primary cilia and it has recently been found that kidney cells' primary cilia are sensitive flowmeters the disabling of which causes polycystic kidney disease. It has also been recently shown that somatostatin sst3 receptors and serotonin 5-HT(6) receptors are selectively sited on neurons in various parts of the rat brain. It seems likely that these selectively receptored neuronal primary cilia will turn out to be the forerunners of a family of cell-signaling devices that help drive various brain functions by sending signals into their own cells and into adjacent cells through gap junctions and via conventional chemical synapses.


J F Whitfield. The neuronal primary cilium--an extrasynaptic signaling device. Cellular signalling. 2004 Jul;16(7):763-7

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PMID: 15115655

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