Textbook images of keratin intermediate filament (IF) networks in epithelial cells and the functional compromization of the epidermis by keratin mutations promulgate a mechanical role for this important cytoskeletal component. In stratified epithelia, keratin filaments form prominent radial spokes that are focused onto cell-cell contact sites, i.e. the desmosomes. In this Hypothesis, we draw attention to a subset of keratin filaments that are apposed to the plasma membrane. They form a rim of filaments interconnecting the desmosomes in a circumferential network. We hypothesize that they are part of a rim-and-spoke arrangement of IFs in epithelia. From our review of the literature, we extend this functional role for the subplasmalemmal rim of IFs to any cell, in which plasma membrane support is required, provided these filaments connect directly or indirectly to the plasma membrane. Furthermore, cytoplasmic IF networks physically link the outer nuclear and plasma membranes, but their participation in mechanotransduction processes remain largely unconsidered. Therefore, we also discuss the potential biomechanical and mechanosensory role(s) of the cytoplasmic IF network in terms of such a rim (i.e. subplasmalemmal)-and-spoke arrangement for cytoplasmic IF networks.
Quinlan, R., Schwartz, N., Windoffer, R., Richardson, C., Hawkins, T., Broussard, J., …Leube, R. (2017). A rim-and-spoke hypothesis to explain the biomechanical roles for cytoplasmic intermediate filament networks. Journal of Cell Science, 130(20), 3437-3445. https://doi.org/10.1242/jcs.202168