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Over the past decade, the primary cilium has emerged as a pivotal sensory organelle that acts as a major signaling hub for a number of developmental signaling pathways. In that time, a vast number of proteins involved in trafficking and signaling have been linked to ciliary assembly and/or function, demonstrating the importance of this organelle during embryonic development. Given the central role of the primary cilium in regulating developmental signaling, it is not surprising that its dysfunction results in widespread defects in the embryo, leading to an expanding class of human congenital disorders known as ciliopathies. These disorders are individually rare and phenotypically variable, but together they affect virtually every vertebrate organ system. Features of ciliopathies that are often overlooked, but which are being reported with increasing frequency, are craniofacial abnormalities, ranging from subtle midline defects to full-blown orofacial clefting. The challenge moving forward is to understand the primary mechanism of disease given the link between the primary cilium and a number of developmental signaling pathways (such as hedgehog, platelet-derived growth factor, and WNT signaling) that are essential for craniofacial development. Here, we provide an overview of the diversity of craniofacial abnormalities present in the ciliopathy spectrum, and reveal those defects in common across multiple disorders. Further, we discuss the molecular defects and potential signaling perturbations underlying these anomalies. This provides insight into the mechanisms leading to ciliopathy phenotypes more generally and highlights the prevalence of widespread dysmorphologies resulting from cilia dysfunction.

Original publication




Journal article


Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol

Publication Date





637 - 653


Animals, Cilia, Craniofacial Abnormalities, Embryonic Development, Humans, Phenotype, Signal Transduction