In Memoriam: Peter Satir (1936–2022) Pioneer in Cell and Cilia Biology, Leader, and Mentor

Peter Satir

It was with great sadness that the cell biology community learned of the death of Peter Satir on July 17. Peter was a beloved family member, mentor to many, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former Chair of Anatomy and Structural Biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NY. In his field of cell biology, Peter was an honored pioneer in understanding the structural basis of ciliary motility and in the role of the primary cilium required for the development and the health of humans. His sliding microtubule model for ciliary motility was groundbreaking and provided the foundation for much of the current work on this process. For his work, Peter received in 2002 the Henry Grey Laureate, the highest honor given by the American Association of Anatomists, and he was awarded the E.B. Wilson Award in 2014, the highest honor of the American Society for Cell Biology. Peter was a supporter of junior and underrepresented minority scientists, many of who are now successful independent researchers around the world.  

Peter Satir grew up in New York City, and he was admitted in 1956 to one of the first graduate classes at Rockefeller University, then the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Sciences. This was a special time at Rockefeller University. It was one of the places where the discipline of cell biology was born and the institution of several founders of the American Society for Cell Biology. In an autobiographical essay, Peter recalled that Rockefeller was a “cradle” of cell biology. mbc.e14-05-1014.

As part of his graduate training, Peter went to the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen. This visit influenced his life profoundly since it is where he met Birgit, his wife and close scientific colleague for over 60 years. Well into their retirement, the Satir’s continued work with Danish investigators, and they each received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Copenhagen.

After finishing his graduate studies, Peter accepted a job as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, Department of Zoology (1966). There he continued his studies of the mechanism of ciliary bending (Satir, 1963; Satir, 1965), testing a sliding microtubule hypothesis of ciliary motion (Satir 1967; 1968). In 1966, Peter was recruited to the Department of Physiology-Anatomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and began pioneering studies of the ciliary membrane and the discovery of the ciliary necklace (Gilula and Satir, 1971) and also further established the sliding microtubule model for ciliary bending (Satir, 1967; Satir, 1968). In 1977, Peter became the Chair of the Department of Anatomy (later the Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology) at Albert Einstein College of Medicine where he built a world-class department of cell and structural biology. It was at Einstein that Peter began his studies of the primary cilium, cell signaling, the ciliopathies, and the link between cilia and autophagosomes (Schneider et al., 2005, Kiprilov et al., 2008, Satir et al., 2010, Pampliega et al., 2013; Satir, 2017). 

After their formal retirements, Peter and Birgit continued to thrive in the scientific community at national and international meetings and conferences. Peter Satir will always be remembered as a pioneer in cell biology testing new ideas with ingenious approaches toward the understanding of cilia and cell function. He will also be remembered for his leadership in cell biology, with the American Society for Cell Biology and at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He helped many new faculty and trainees with his care, mentorship, warmth, and collegiality. Peter was as a devoted father and beloved partner of Birgit Satir, and he will be deeply missed by many. We all extend our deepest sympathy to Peter’s family – his wife Birgit and his sons, Jacob and Adam, and their families.


Gilula, N.B., and P. Satir. 1972. The ciliary necklace. A ciliary membrane specialization. J Cell Biol. 53:494-509.

Kiprilov E.N., Awan A., Desprat R., Velho M., Clement C.A., Byskov A.G., Andersen C.Y., Satir P., Bouhassira E.E., Christensen S.T. and R.E. Hirsch. 2008. Human embryonic stem cells in culture possess primary cilia with hedgehog signaling machinery. J. Cell Biol. 180:897-904. 

Pampliega, O., I. Orhon, B. Patel, S. Sridhar, A. Diaz-Carretero, I. Beau, P. Codogno, B.H. Satir, P. Satir, and A.M. Cuervo. 2013. Functional interaction between autophagy and ciliogenesis. Nature. 502:194-200.

Satir, P. 1963. Studies on cilia. The fixation of the metachronal wave. J Cell Biol. 18:345-365.

Satir, P. 1965. Studies on cilia: II. Examination of the distal region of the ciliary shaft and the role of the filaments in motility. J Cell Biol. 26:805-834.

Satir, P. 1967. Morphological aspects of ciliary motility. J Gen. Physiol. 50: Suppl #?:241-258.

Satir, P. 1968. Studies on cilia. III. Further studies on the cilium tip and a “sliding filament” model of ciliary motility. J Cell Biol. 39:77-94.

Satir, P. 2017. Cilia: before and after. Cilia. 6:1.

Satir, P., Pedersen, L.B. and S.T. Christensen. 2010. Primary cilia at a glance. J. Cell Sci. 123:499-503.

Schneider, L., Clement, C.A., Teilmann, S.C., Pazour, G.P., Hoffmann, E.K., Satir, P. and S.T. Christensen. 2005. PDGFRαα signaling is regulated through the primary cilium in fibroblasts. Curr. Biol. 15:1861-1866.

About the Author:

Søren Tvorup Christensen, Professor, University of Copenhagen, Department of Biology. Written with contributions from Winfield Sale, Professor Emeritus, Emory University; and Joel Rosenbaum, Professor Emeritus, Yale University.