May 26, 2007

Softness, strength and self-repair in intermediate filament networks

Experimental Cell Research
Oliver I WagnerP A Janmey


One cellular function of intermediate filaments is to provide cells with compliance to small deformations while strengthening them when large stresses are applied. How IFs accomplish this mechanical role is revealed by recent studies of the elastic properties of single IF protein polymers and by viscoelastic characterization of the networks they form. IFs are unique among cytoskeletal filaments in withstanding large deformations. Single filaments can stretch to more than 3 times their initial length before breaking, and gels of IF withstand strains greater than 100% without damage. Even after mechanical disruption of gels formed by crossbridged neurofilaments, the elastic modulus of these gels rapidly recovers under conditions where gels formed by actin filaments are irreversibly ruptured. The polyelectrolyte properties of IFs may enable crossbridging by multivalent counterions, but identifying the mechanisms by which IFs link into bundles and networks in vivo remains a challenge.

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