Mechanoreceptor cells develop a specialized cytoskeleton that plays structural and sensory roles at the site of mechanotransduction. However, little is known about how the cytoskeleton is organized and formed. Using electron tomography and live-cell imaging, we resolve the 3D structure and dynamics of the microtubule-based cytoskeleton in fly campaniform mechanosensory cilia. Investigating the formation of the cytoskeleton, we find that katanin p60-like 1 (kat-60L1), a neuronal type of microtubule-severing enzyme, serves two functions. First, it amplifies the mass of microtubules to form the dense microtubule arrays inside the sensory cilia. Second, it generates short microtubules that are required to build the nanoscopic cytoskeleton at the mechanotransduction site. Additional analyses further reveal the functional roles of Patronin and other potential factors in the local regulatory network. In all, our results characterize the specialized cytoskeleton in fly external mechanosensory cilia at near-molecular resolution and provide mechanistic insights into how it is formed.

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