Pairwise assembly determines the intrinsic potential for self-organization and mechanical properties of keratin filaments

Soichiro Yamada, Denis Wirtz, Pierre A. Coulombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

70 Scopus citations


Most type I and II keratin genes are spatially and temporally regulated in a pairwise manner in epithelial tissues, where they represent the major structural proteins. Epithelia can be partitioned into simple (single-layered) and complex (multilayered) types. We compared the structural and mechanical properties of natural keratin polymers occurring in complex (K5-K14) and simple (K8-K18) epithelia. The intrinsic properties of these distantly related keratin filaments, whether dispersed or bundled in vitro, were surprisingly similar in all respects when at high polymer concentration. When type I and II assembly partners were switched to give rise to mismatched polymers (K5-K18; K8-K14), the interfilament interactions, which determine the structural and mechanical properties of keratin polymers, were significantly altered. We also show that a K5-K16 polymer exhibits lesser elasticity than K5-K14, which may help explain the inability of K16 to fully rescue the skin blistering characteristic of K14 null mice. The property of self-interaction exhibited by keratin filaments is likely to assist their function in vivo and may account for the relative paucity of cytoplasmic and keratin-specific cross-linkers. Our findings underscore the fundamental importance of pairwise polymerization and have implications for the functional significance of keratin sequence diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)382-391
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Biology of the Cell
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology

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