Retinal degeneration is a leading cause of human blindness due to progressive loss of ciliated photoreceptors cells. While this degradation can be associated with cohesion defects of the microtubule-based connecting cilium (CC) structure, the underlying mechanism is not understood. Here, using expansion microscopy and electron microscopy, we reveal the molecular architecture of the CC and demonstrate that microtubules are linked together by a CC-inner scaffold (CC-IS) containing POC5, CENTRIN and FAM161A. Monitoring CC-IS assembly during photoreceptor development in mouse reveals that it acts as a structural zipper, progressively bridging microtubule doublets and straightening the CC. Consistently, Fam161a mutations lead to a specific CC-IS loss and trigger microtubule doublets spreading, prior to outer segment collapse and photoreceptor degeneration, providing a molecular mechanism for retinitis pigmentosa disease.
One Sentence Summary
The connecting cilium inner scaffold acts as a structural zipper granting photoreceptor integrity.