The axoneme of motile cilia is the largest macromolecular machine of eukaryotic cells. In humans, impaired axoneme function causes a range of ciliopathies. Axoneme assembly, structure, and motility require a radially arranged set of doublet microtubules, each decorated in repeating patterns with non-tubulin components. We use single-particle cryo-electron microscopy to visualize and build an atomic model of the repeating structure of a native axonemal doublet microtubule, which reveals the identities, positions, repeat lengths, and interactions of 38 associated proteins, including 33 microtubule inner proteins (MIPs). The structure demonstrates how these proteins establish the unique architecture of doublet microtubules, maintain coherent periodicities along the axoneme, and stabilize the microtubules against the repeated mechanical stress induced by ciliary motility. Our work elucidates the architectural principles that underpin the assembly of this large, repetitive eukaryotic structure and provides a molecular basis for understanding the etiology of human ciliopathies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-922.e12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 31 2019


  • axoneme
  • cilia
  • cryo-EM
  • doublet microtubule
  • tubulin


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