Novel analytical tools reveal that local synchronization of cilia coincides with tissue-scale metachronal waves in zebrafish multiciliated epithelia

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Motile cilia are hair-like cell extensions that beat periodically to generate fluid flow along various epithelial tissues within the body. In dense multiciliated carpets, cilia were shown to exhibit a remarkable coordination of their beat in the form of traveling metachronal waves, a phenomenon which supposedly enhances fluid transport. Yet, how cilia coordinate their regular beat in multiciliated epithelia to move fluids remains insufficiently understood, particularly due to lack of rigorous quantification. We combine experiments, novel analysis tools, and theory to address this knowledge gap. To investigate collective dynamics of cilia, we studied zebrafish multiciliated epithelia in the nose and the brain. We focused mainly on the zebrafish nose, due to its conserved properties with other ciliated tissues and its superior accessibility for non-invasive imaging. We revealed that cilia are synchronized only locally and that the size of local synchronization domains increases with the viscosity of the surrounding medium. Even though synchronization is local only, we observed global patterns of traveling metachronal waves across the zebrafish multiciliated epithelium. Intriguingly, these global wave direction patterns are conserved across individual fish, but different for left and right nose, unveiling a chiral asymmetry of metachronal coordination. To understand the implications of synchronization for fluid pumping, we used a computational model of a regular array of cilia. We found that local metachronal synchronization prevents steric collisions, cilia colliding with each other, and improves fluid pumping in dense cilia carpets, but hardly affects the direction of fluid flow. In conclusion, we show that local synchronization together with tissue-scale cilia alignment coincide and generate metachronal wave patterns in multiciliated epithelia, which enhance their physiological function of fluid pumping.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere77701
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2023

External IDs

PubMed 36700548
WOS 000936906500001


Research priority areas of TU Dresden


  • chirality, cilia beating, computational model, metachronal coordination, motile cilium, multiciliated cell, steric collisions, synchronization, zebrafish, Multiciliated cell, Zebrafish, Motile cilia, Computational model, Synchronization, Metachronal coordination, Steric collisions, Chirality, Ciliary beating, Cilia/physiology, Animals, Nose, Epithelium/physiology

Library keywords