Keratin intermediate filaments are an essential and major component of the cytoskeleton in epithelial cells. They form a stable yet dynamic filamentous network extending from the nucleus to the cell periphery, which provides resistance to mechanical stresses. Mutations in keratin genes are related to a variety of epithelial tissue diseases. Despite their importance, the molecular structure of keratin filaments remains largely unknown. In this study, we analyzed the structure of keratin 5/keratin 14 filaments within ghost mouse keratinocytes by cryo-electron microscopy and cryo-electron tomography. By averaging a large number of keratin segments, we have gained insights into the helical architecture of the filaments. Two-dimensional classification revealed profound variations in the diameter of keratin filaments and their subunit organization. Computational reconstitution of filaments of substantial length uncovered a high degree of internal heterogeneity along single filaments, which can contain regions of helical symmetry, regions with less symmetry and regions with significant diameter fluctuations. Cross section views of filaments revealed that keratins form hollow cylinders consisting of multiple protofilaments, with an electron dense core located in the center of the filament. These findings shed light on the complex and remarkable heterogenic architecture of keratin filaments, suggesting that they are highly flexible, dynamic cytoskeletal structures.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Neuroscience
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Immunology and Microbiology