2Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, ul. Vavilova 32, 119991 Moscow, Russia
* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received March 15, 2008; Revision received May 21, 2008
Intermediate filaments (IF) represent one of three main cytoskeletal structures in most animal cells. The human IF protein family includes about 70 members divided into five main groups. The characteristic feature of IF is that in various cells and tissues they are formed by proteins of different groups. Structures of all IF proteins follow a unique scheme: a central α-helical part is flanked at the N and C ends by positively charged polypeptide chains devoid of a clear secondary structure. The central part is highly conserved for all proteins in all animals, whereas the N and C termini strongly differ both in size and amino acid composition. This review covers the broad spectrum of recent investigations of IF structure and diverse functions. Special attention is paid to the regulatory mechanisms of IF functions, mainly to phosphorylation by different protein kinases whose role is well studied. The review gives examples of hereditary diseases associated with mutations of some IF proteins, which point to an important physiological role of these cytoskeletal structures.
KEY WORDS: intermediate filaments, vimentin, keratins, cytoskeleton