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Exp Cell Res. 2007 Jun 10;313(10):2255-64. Epub 2007 Mar 12.

Intermediate filaments: a role in epithelial polarity.

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Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine, 1600 NW 10th Ave.-RMSB, Miami, FL 33136, USA.


Intermediate filaments have long been considered mechanical components of the cell that provide resistance to deformation stress. Practical experimental problems, including insolubility, lack of good pharmacological antagonists, and the paucity of powerful genetic models have handicapped the research of other functions. In single-layered epithelial cells, keratin intermediate filaments are cortical, either apically polarized or apico-lateral. This review analyzes phenotypes of genetic manipulations of simple epithelial cell keratins in mice and Caenorhabditis elegans that strongly suggest a role of keratins in apico-basal polarization and membrane traffic. Published evidence that intermediate filaments can act as scaffolds for proteins involved in membrane traffic and signaling is also discussed. Such a scaffolding function would generate a highly polarized compartment within the cytoplasm of simple epithelial cells. While in most cases mechanistic explanations for the keratin-null or overexpression phenotypes are still missing, it is hoped that investigators will be encouraged to study these as yet poorly understood functions of intermediate filaments.

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