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Journal or Book Title

Nature Communications


Epithelial cells are generally considered to be static relative to their neighbours. Basal cells in pseudostratified epithelia display a single long cytoplasmic process that can cross the tight junction barrier to reach the lumen. Using in vivo microscopy to visualize the epididymis, a model system for the study of pseudostratified epithelia, we report here the surprising discovery that these basal cell projections—which we call axiopodia—periodically extend and retract over time. We found that axiopodia extensions and retractions follow an oscillatory pattern. This movement, which we refer to as periodic axial motility (PAM), is controlled by c-Src and MEK1/2–ERK1/2. Therapeutic inhibition of tyrosine kinase activity induces a retraction of these projections. Such unexpected cell motility may reflect a novel mechanism by which specialized epithelial cells sample the luminal environment.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


This work was supported by NIH grants HD040793 and DK097124 (to S.B.), and P50CA086355 and S10RR0266360 (to R.W.) The Microscopy Core facility of the MGH Program in Membrane Biology receives support from the Boston Area Diabetes and Endocrinology Research Center (DK57521) and the Center for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (DK43351). The Nikon A1R confocal in the PMB Microscopy Core was purchased using an NIH Shared Instrumentation Grant S10 RR031563-01. S.B. is a recipient of the Charles and Ann Sanders Research Scholar Award at MGH.