Azimzadeh J, Basquin C
The freshwater planarian Schmidtea mediterranea has recently emerged as a valuable model system to study basal bodies (BBs) and cilia. Planarians are free-living flatworms that use cilia beating at the surface of their ventral epidermis for gliding along substrates. The ventral epidermis is composed of multiciliated cells (MCCs) that are similar to the MCCs in the respiratory airways, the brain ventricles, and the oviducts in vertebrates. In the planarian epidermis, each cell assembles approximately eighty cilia that beat in a coordinate fashion across the tissue. The BBs that nucleate these cilia all assemble de novo during terminal differentiation of MCCs. The genome of the planarian S. mediterranea has been sequenced and efficient methods for targeting gene expression by RNA interference are available. Defects induced by perturbing the expression of BB proteins can be detected simply by analyzing the locomotion of planarians. BBs are present in large numbers and in predictable orientation, which greatly facilitates analyses by immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. The great ease in targeting gene expression and analyzing associated defects allowed to identify a set of proteins required for BB assembly and function in planarian MCCs. Future technological developments, including methods for transgenic expression in planarians and in related species, will achieve turning free-living flatworms into powerful model systems to study MCCs and the associated human pathologies.