What Is Ciliated Epithelium?

The nose has a ciliated epithelium.
The ciliated epithelium helps protect the body from dust and particles.
The fallopian tubes and uterus contain ciliated epithelium.
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  • Written By: M. Walker
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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Ciliated epithelium is a category of epithelium, a tissue whose cells line the outermost and innermost surfaces of the body. It is named for the presence of cilia, or thin, finger-like hairs, on its surface. These cilia move in one direction in a wavelike pattern, allowing the cells to sweep away debris, direct the flow of particles, and create a current.

This type of epithelium can be found in the body’s air passages, including the lungs, trachea, and nose; in the fallopian tubes and uterus; and in the brain. In the airways, ciliated epithelium is necessary to keep dust and debris out of the lungs, because it controls the flow of mucus. Particles in the air are trapped by the mucus in these passageways, and the sweeping motions of the cilia direct the mucus away from the lungs and out of the body. In the fallopian tubes, cilia sweep an ovum down toward the uterus, where uterine cilia position it or sweep it out of the body. This tissue helps circulate cerebral fluids in the ventricles of the brain.


The cilia on the edges of the cells are made up of microtubules, long protein strands known as filaments that make up a cell’s cytoskeleton and give it structure. These microtubules bind together to form dimers, or pairs, which then associate with each other into a cylindrical shape for more strength. These tubes are held together by linking proteins, and they extend up through each of the cilium hairs on the surface. The sweeping movements of the cilia are energy-dependent, and they rely on enzymes that use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to generate motion. These enzymes connect to the cylinders and whip them in one direction, allowing for the cilia’s characteristic pulsing waves.

The classification of ciliated epithelium is based on several factors, including location, cell shape, and overall appearance of the tissue as a whole. It is only found on the inner surfaces of the body, so it is part of the endothelium, or internal epithelium. The shape of individual cells is cylindrical, like a column, placing this tissue in the “columnar epithelium” category.

Although the cells are found in a single layer, the cells’ nuclei are positioned unevenly, giving the tissue the appearance of having multiple layers, called stratification. This places the tissue in the category of “pseudostratified epithelium,” or epithelium that appears to be stratified but is not. These terms can be combined to form the more specific category, “ciliated pseudostratified columnar epithelium.”


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Post 3

@Iluviaporos - You kind of get blown away by how much a single cell can move when you look through a microscope. I don't think epithelial cells move anywhere near as much as some of the bacteria that you get in pond water.

I do wonder if they will one day be able to improve the movement of our lung and nose cells so that they can remove dust and germs and pollution more efficiently. There are quite a few diseases where that would be a real advantage. Not to mention some cities where the pollution gets so bad that people have terrible lung diseases. If they could strengthen the cells in the lungs so that they could remove damaging particles more quickly and easily that would help a lot of people I think.

Post 2

@Fa5t3r - What I always found amazing was that we had cells that move like that. When you consider how very simple a cell is, it's pretty cool that they are capable of independent movement without needing cells of their own to manage it.

Although I learned recently that even the spores of ferns (which are a very ancient plant) can swim through water with that same kind of wavy movement that the ciliated epithelial tissue uses, so I guess it's probably not as complicated as I imagine it to be.

Post 1

I knew about the ciliated epithelium in my lungs and nose and things, but I didn't realize that it was in my brain as well. That's pretty awesome actually. I love the idea of cells moving in waves inside my skull, although I was worried at first that the article was going to say that they remove debris or something similar to what they do elsewhere. That would be a little bit strange.

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