Axonemal dyneins power the beating of motile cilia and flagella. These massive multimeric motor complexes are assembled in the cytoplasm, and subsequently trafficked to cilia and incorporated into the axonemal superstructure. Numerous cytoplasmic factors are required for the dynein assembly process, and, in mammals, defects lead to primary ciliary dyskinesia, which results in infertility, bronchial problems and failure to set up the left-right body axis correctly. Liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS) has been proposed to underlie the formation of numerous membrane-less intracellular assemblies or condensates. In multiciliated cells, cytoplasmic assembly of axonemal dyneins also occurs in condensates that exhibit liquid-like properties, including fusion, fission and rapid exchange of components both within condensates and with bulk cytoplasm. However, a recent extensive meta-analysis suggests that the general methods used to define LLPS systems in vivo may not readily distinguish LLPS from other mechanisms. Here, I consider the time and length scales of axonemal dynein heavy chain synthesis, and the possibility that during translation of dynein heavy chain mRNAs, polysomes are crosslinked via partially assembled proteins. I propose that axonemal dynein factory formation in the cytoplasm may be a direct consequence of the sheer scale and complexity of the assembly process itself.

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