Intermediate Filaments: Definition, Function & Structure

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  • 0:02 Filaments in a Cytoskeleton
  • 1:13 What Are Intermediate…
  • 2:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeremy Battista
In this lesson, we'll be looking at intermediate filaments, which make up many of the filamentous substances that bear the brunt of the cell's structure. You'll learn about their function and get a good idea of their structure and then you'll be able to test your knowledge with a quiz!

Filaments in a Cytoskeleton

When you think of a cell, you might picture a pool with the edge of the pool representing the plasma membrane and the water representing the cytoplasm where everything lives. You sitting on your raft catching some rays would represent organelles in the cytoplasm. This is a good analogy but it is not entirely accurate.

On the inside of the cell there is a network of fibers that criss-cross the cell called the cytoskeleton. They help to give the cell shape and to organize the activities as well as the structure and function of the cell. The cytoskeleton allows many organelles anchor points and stability. This amazing structure can also quickly reconfigure itself allowing the cell to change shape.

The cytoskeleton is made up of three different types of protein fibers. The microtubules are the thickest protein fibers and microfilaments are the thinnest protein fibers, with the intermediate filaments being right in the middle between the others. We will be focusing on intermediate filaments, which are about 8-12 nanometers in diameter. There are 10 million nanometers in 1 centimeter, so you can grasp an understanding of how small we are talking here.

What Are Intermediate Filaments?

As we just stated, intermediate filaments are cytoskeletal components of cells that are mid-sized of the three cytoskeletal fibers. Think of them as the small pickup truck of these fibers. Microtubules would be the huge SUV or large pickup with the microfilaments being the small compact cars. Intermediate, like the name suggests, is right in the middle of the three.

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