Introduction to Cilia and Flagella

  • George B. Witman


Cilia and flagella of eukaryotes are generally long, whiplike appendages extending from the cell body; historically, the term flagellum has been used when these structures are present singly or in small numbers, whereas the term cilium has been used when the structures occur in larger numbers. Typically, a flagellum propagates nearly symmetrical bends from the base to the tip of the organelle, causing the fluid in which it is beating to flow parallel to the flagellar axis (Fig. 1). Cilia generally move with an asymmetrical beat consisting of an effective and a recovery stroke. During the effective stroke a large bend is formed at the base of the cilium, causing the cilium to slice rapidly through the medium; this is followed by the recovery stroke, during which the bend is propagated along the ciliary shaft until the cilium returns to the position it held before the beginning of the effective stroke. The result of this beat pattern is that fluid is moved parallel to the cell surface in the direction of the effective stroke (Fig. 1). Cilia and flagella are very similar if not identical in terms of their internal structures and mechanisms of movement; indeed, the flagella of many organisms can beat with both flagellar and ciliary type waveforms. Consequently, most of my general comments about these organelles may be applied equally well to either cilia or flagella. The eukaryotic flagellum should not be confused with the prokaryotic flagellum, which is a completely different structure having a different protein composition and a different mechanism of movement (see Macnab, 1987a,b, for reviews). The prokaryotic flagellum is an extracellular appendage, whereas the eukaryotic flagellum is an intracellular organelle, surrounded by an extension of the cell’s plasma membrane. It is, of course, the interesting and frequently unique properties of ciliary and flagellar membranes that are the raison d’être of this book.


Basal Body Central Pair Ciliary Membrane Radial Spoke Cell BioI 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • George B. Witman
    • 1
  1. 1.Cell Biology Group and Male Fertility ProgramWorcester Foundation for Experimental BiologyShrewburyUSA

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