How useful is the ultrastructural study of the cilia of the respiratory tract in the diagnosis of an immotile cilia syndrome?

Fischer, L.; Burri, P. H.; Bauer, W.; Kraemer, R.; Sauter, K. (1984). How useful is the ultrastructural study of the cilia of the respiratory tract in the diagnosis of an immotile cilia syndrome? Schweizerische medizinische Wochenschrift, 114(18), pp. 610-619. B. Schwabe & Co.

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The immotile cilia syndrome (ICS) comprises a range of congenital defects of the ciliary apparatus most probably transmitted by autosomal recessive inheritance. Because cilia occur mainly in the respiratory and genital tract, the clinical symptoms of ICS are most commonly chronic sinusitis, bronchitis, bronchiectasis and male sterility. The syndrome can be associated with a situs inversus and is then called Kartagener's syndrome. We studied the ciliary ultrastructure in airway biopsies of 5 patients suffering from chronic upper and lower respiratory tract infections. With the single exception of one female patient with confirmed ICS diagnosis (Kartagener's syndrome) the etiology of the recurrent infections was unknown. The following ciliary defects were observed: missing dynein arms, radial spoke defects, missing nexin links, microtubular transpositions, compound cilia, supernumerary, absent, or incomplete microtubules, lack of ciliary orientation and various abnormal patterns of microtubular arrangement. In no instance did a patient show only a single anomaly; defects were always combined. Missing dynein arms, radial spoke defects and microtubular transpositions have frequently been described as lesions specific for ICS. Whenever these lesions were found simultaneously in both the respiratory and genital tracts, their genetic origin cannot be doubted. In our confirmed ICS patient the outer dynein arms were not missing but were reduced in number and length in a large number of cilia. The biopsy was, however, obtained from the heavily infected maxillary sinus and it is known that inflammation can lead to a loss of dynein arms. In the light of our investigations and of a review of the published cases of ciliary anomalies, it is concluded that none of the above defects in itself is specific for ICS. They may all occur as secondary lesions or sporadically as varieties in otherwise healthy subjects. It therefore appears questionable whether ICS can be diagnosed from the ciliary ultrastructure of a single airway biopsy. Assessment of ICS cannot be based simply on the ultrastructural demonstration of a particular ciliary defect, but necessitates additional considerations particularly regarding the origin of the biopsy, the sampling procedures and quantitation of defects. It appears necessary to investigate samples from different parts of the airways and quantitatively analyze the prominent lesions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Service Sector > Institute of Pathology
04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Endocrinology (DFKE) > Clinic of Paediatric Medicine
04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Anatomy
04 Faculty of Medicine > Medical Education > Institute of Complementary and Integrative Medicine (IKIM)

UniBE Contributor:

Fischer, Lorenz, Burri, Peter Hermann, Kraemer, Richard, Sauter, Karin


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




B. Schwabe & Co.




Anette van Dorland

Date Deposited:

18 Aug 2014 10:53

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:34

PubMed ID:



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