Human islet primary cilia are vital glucose-regulating organelles whose structure remains uncharacterized. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is a useful technique for studying the surface morphology of membrane projections like cilia, but conventional sample preparation does not reveal the submembrane axonemal structure, which holds key implications for ciliary function. To overcome this challenge, we combined SEM with membrane-extraction techniques to examine primary cilia in native human islets. Our data show well-preserved cilia subdomains which demonstrate both expected and unexpected ultrastructural motifs. Morphometric features were quantified when possible, including axonemal length and diameter, microtubule conformations, and chirality. We further describe a ciliary ring, a structure that may be a specialization in human islets. Key findings are correlated with fluorescence microscopy and interpreted in the context of cilia function as a cellular sensor and communications locus in pancreatic islets.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2302624120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - May 30 2023


  • human islets
  • primary cilia
  • scanning electron microscopy


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