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J Cell Sci. 2019 Jul 30;132(14). pii: jcs213496. doi: 10.1242/jcs.213496.

The cilium as a force sensor-myth versus reality.

R Ferreira R1,2,3,4, Fukui H1,2,3,4, Chow R1,2,3,4, Vilfan A5,6, Vermot J7,2,3,4.

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Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, 67404 Illkirch, France.
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR7104, 67404 Illkirch, France.
Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, U1258, 67404 Illkirch, France.
Université de Strasbourg, 67404 Illkirch, France.
Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPIDS), Department of Living Matter Physics, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
J. Stefan Institute, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, 67404 Illkirch, France


Cells need to sense their mechanical environment during the growth of developing tissues and maintenance of adult tissues. The concept of force-sensing mechanisms that act through cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesions is now well established and accepted. Additionally, it is widely believed that force sensing can be mediated through cilia. Yet, this hypothesis is still debated. By using primary cilia sensing as a paradigm, we describe the physical requirements for cilium-mediated mechanical sensing and discuss the different hypotheses of how this could work. We review the different mechanosensitive channels within the cilium, their potential mode of action and their biological implications. In addition, we describe the biological contexts in which cilia are acting - in particular, the left-right organizer - and discuss the challenges to discriminate between cilium-mediated chemosensitivity and mechanosensitivity. Throughout, we provide perspectives on how quantitative analysis and physics-based arguments might help to better understand the biological mechanisms by which cells use cilia to probe their mechanical environment.


Low Reynolds number; Mechanotransduction; TRP channels; Transient receptor potential channel


Conflict of interest statement

Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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