Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

Now in our 12th year of bringing you beautiful imagery from biomedical science every day

Follow the Beat

How cilia – certain cells' whisker-like projections – synchronise wave movements to enhance their physiological function of fluid pumping

25 February 2023

Follow the Beat

Motile cilia keep things flowing. These cell projections, which line certain tissues, such as those in your nose, periodically beat to move fluid along. In dense carpets of cilia, they coordinate their beats in travelling movements called metachronal waves. How they do this isn’t clear, so researchers investigate in zebrafish noses. Fluorescence microscopy combined with spectral analysis revealed cilia only synchronised locally and the synchronisation area increased in size as the surrounding fluid became thicker. Although synchronisation was local, metachronal waves travelled across the entire multi-ciliated tissue. The direction of these wave patterns was the same across fish but different between left and right nose (pictured) where they were mirror reflections of each other. Computational modelling of wave patterns revealed that their synchronisation prevented cilia (magenta) colliding with each other and improved fluid movement but hardly affected the direction of flow. These waves, therefore, help cilia perform at their best.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

Search The Archive

Submit An Image

What is BPoD?

BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

Read More

BPoD is also available in Catalan at with translations by the University of Valencia.