A cilium is an extension of the cell that contains an axonemal complex of microtubules and associated proteins bounded by a membrane which is contiguous with the cell body membrane. Cilia may be nonmotile or motile, the latter having additional specific roles in cell or fluid movement. The term flagellum refers to the motile cilium of free-living single cells (e.g. bacteria, archaea, spermatozoa, and protozoa). In eukaryotes, both nonmotile and motile cilia possess sensory functions. The ciliary interior (cilioplasm) is separated from the cytoplasm by a selective barrier that prevents passive diffusion of molecules between the two domains. The sensory functions of cilia reside largely in the membrane and signals generated in the cilium are transduced into a variety of cellular responses. In this review we discuss the structure and biogenesis of the cilium, with special attention to the trypanosome flagellar membrane, its lipid and protein composition and its proposed roles in sensing and signaling.