Respect for the primary cilium has undergone a remarkable renaissance over the past decade, and it is now thought to be an essential regulator of numerous signaling pathways. The primary cilium's functions range from the movement of cells and fluid, to sensory inputs involved with olfaction and photoreception. Disruption of cilia function is involved in multiple human syndromes collectively called 'ciliopathies'. The cilium's activities are mediated by targeting of receptors, channels, and their downstream effector proteins to the ciliary or basal body compartment. These combined properties of the cilium make it a critical organelle facilitating the interactions between the cell and its environment. Here, we review many of the recent advances contributing to the ascendancy of the primary cilium and how the extraordinary complexity of this organelle inevitably assures many more exciting future discoveries. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.