The Function of Intermediate Filaments

Intermediate filaments (IFs) are a type of cytoskeletal fiber found in many eukaryotic cells; they're also believed to be found in fungi and other single-celled eukaryotes, but that has not been fully accepted by scientists.

In some cells, there are as many as ten times the number of intermediate filaments as there are other microfilaments or microtubules. This abundance of IFs means they serve several important roles in the cell.

Intermediate filaments are usually strong and ropelike. Their job is mainly structural, providing strength and support for the more fragile tubulin structures.

All cells have intermediate filaments, and some cells have several different types. Some intermediate filaments are closely linked to specific cell types. Neurofilaments, as the name suggest, are found exclusively in neurons. Muscle cells contain a type called desmin filaments, and keratins are present in the epithelial cells. Other types of intermediate filaments are found more widely distributed in various types of cells.

The function of intermediate filaments is largely mechanical, meaning they provide support for the cell so that other microfilaments can more readily do their transport jobs. Some intermediate filaments are even arranged in a mesh-like pattern to provide for the different support needs of different kinds of cells.

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