Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 35213220
Link to DOI – 10.1126/sciadv.abm2696
Sci Adv 2022 Feb; 8(8): eabm2696
Intermediate filaments (IFs) are involved in key cellular functions including polarization, migration, and protection against large deformations. These functions are related to their remarkable ability to extend without breaking, a capacity that should be determined by the molecular organization of subunits within filaments. However, this structure-mechanics relationship remains poorly understood at the molecular level. Here, using super-resolution microscopy (SRM), we show that vimentin filaments exhibit a ~49-nanometer axial repeat both in cells and in vitro. As unit-length filaments (ULFs) were measured at ~59 nanometers, this demonstrates a partial overlap of ULFs during filament assembly. Using an SRM-compatible stretching device, we also provide evidence that the extensibility of vimentin is due to the unfolding of its subunits and not to their sliding, thus establishing a direct link between the structural organization and its mechanical properties. Overall, our results pave the way for future studies of IF assembly, mechanical, and structural properties in cells.