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Cell Motil Cytoskeleton. 2000 Jun;46(2):73-94.

Recurring views on the structure and function of the cytoskeleton: a 300-year epic.

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  • 1Departamento de Biología Celular and Departamento de Fisiología, Biofísica y Neurociencias, Centro de Investigacíon y de Estudios Avanzados del IPN, México.


Some unnoticed or seldom remembered precedents of current views on biological motion and its structural bases are briefly outlined, followed by a concise recapitulation of how the present theory has been constructed in the last few decades. It is shown that the evolution of the concept of fibers as main constituents of living matter led to hypothesizing microscopic structures closely resembling microtubules in the 18th century. At the beginning of this period, fibers sliding over each other and driven by interposed moving elements were envisioned as the cause of muscle contraction. In the following century, an account of the mechanism of myofibril contraction visualized longitudinal displacements of myosin-containing submicroscopic rodlets. The existence of fibrils in the protoplasm of non-muscle cells, a subject of long debate in the second half of the 19th century, was virtually discarded as irrelevant or fallacious 100 years ago. The issue resurfaced in the early 1930s as a theoretical notion--the cytosquelette--nearly two decades before intracellular filamentous structures were first observed with electron microscopy. The role originally assumed for such fibrils as signal conductors is nowadays being reappraised, although under new interpretations with a much wider significance including modulation of gene expression, morphogenesis, and even consciousness. Since all of the above ancestral conceptions were eventually abandoned, the corresponding current views are, to a certain extent, recurrent.

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