The primary cilium is a microtubule-based antenna-like structure that emanates from the surface of virtually all cells in the mammalian body. It is anchored to the cell by the basal body, which develops from the mother centriole of the centrosome in a manner that is coordinately regulated with the cell cycle. The primary cilium is a sensory organelle that receives both mechanical and chemical signals from other cells and the environment, and transmits these signals to the nucleus to elicit a cellular response. Recent studies revealed that multiple components of the Sonic hedgehog and platelet-derived growth factor receptor-alpha signal transduction pathways localize to the primary cilium, and that loss of the cilium blocks ligand-induced signaling by both pathways. In light of the major role that these pathways play in numerous types of cancer, we anticipate that the emerging discoveries being made about the function of the primary cilium in signaling pathways that are critical for embryonic development and tissue homeostasis in adults will also provide novel insights into the molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis.
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