Cilia and flagella play important roles in human health by contributing to cellular motility as well as sensing and responding to environmental cues. Defects in ciliary assembly and/or function can lead to a range of human diseases, collectively known as the ciliopathies, including polycystic kidney, liver and pancreatic diseases, sterility, obesity, situs inversus, hydrocephalus and retinal degeneration. A basic understanding of how cilia form and function is essential for deciphering ciliopathies and generating therapeutic treatments. The cilium is a unique compartment that contains a distinct complement of protein and lipid. However, the molecular mechanisms by which soluble and membrane protein components are targeted to and trafficked into the cilium are not well understood. Cilia are generated and maintained by IFT (intraflagellar transport) in which IFT cargoes are transported along axonemal microtubules by kinesin and dynein motors. A variety of genetic, biochemical and cell biological approaches has established the heterotrimeric kinesin-2 motor as the ‘core’ IFT motor, whereas other members of the kinesin-2, kinesin-3 and kinesin-4 families function as ‘accessory’ motors for the transport of specific cargoes in diverse cell types. Motors of the kinesin-9 and kinesin-13 families play a non-IFT role in regulating ciliary beating or axonemal length, respectively. Entry of kinesin motors and their cargoes into the ciliary compartment requires components of the nuclear import machinery, specifically importin-β2 (transportin-1) and Ran-GTP (Ran bound to GTP), suggesting that similar mechanisms may regulate entry into the nuclear and ciliary compartments.

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