Intermediate filaments: A role in epithelial polarity

Andrea S. Oriolo, Flavia A. Wald, Victoria P. Ramsauer, Pedro J.I. Salas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2255-2264
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jun 10 2007


  • Apical polarity
  • Epithelia
  • Epithelial asymmetry
  • Gamma-TurC
  • Intermediate filaments
  • Keratin
  • MTOC
  • Transgenic models
  • Vectorial secretion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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