Intermediate filaments: primary determinants of cell architecture and plasticity

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Intermediate filaments (IFs) are major constituents of the cytoskeleton and nuclear boundary in animal cells. They are of prime importance for the functional organization of structural elements. Depending on the cell type, morphologically similar but biochemically distinct proteins form highly viscoelastic filament networks with multiple nanomechanical functions. Besides their primary role in cell plasticity and their established function as cellular stress absorbers, recently discovered gene defects have elucidated that structural alterations of IFs can affect their involvement both in signaling and in controlling gene regulatory networks. Here, we highlight the basic structural and functional properties of IFs and derive a concept of how mutations may affect cellular architecture and thereby tissue construction and physiology.

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