Functions of intermediate filaments in neuronal development and disease.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


J Neurobiol, Volume 58, Issue 1, p.131-48 (2004)


Animals, Humans, Intermediate Filaments, Nervous System, Nervous System Diseases, Neurons


<p>Five major types of intermediate filament (IF) proteins are expressed in mature neurons: the three neurofilament proteins (NF-L, NF-M, and NF-H), alpha-internexin, and peripherin. While the differential expression of IF genes during embryonic development suggests potential functions of these proteins in axogenesis, none of the IF gene knockout experiments in mice caused gross developmental defects of the nervous system. Yet, deficiencies in neuronal IF proteins are not completely innocuous. Substantial developmental loss of motor axons was detected in mice lacking NF-L and in double knockout NF-M;NF-H mice, supporting the view of a role for IFs in axon stabilization. Moreover, the absence of peripherin resulted in approximately 30% loss of small sensory axons. Mice lacking NF-L had a scarcity of IF structures and exhibited a severe axonal hypotrophy, causing up to 50% reduction in conduction velocity, a feature that would be very detrimental for large animal species. Unexpectedly, the NF-M rather than NF-H protein turned out to be required for proper radial growth of large myelinated axons. Studies with transgenic mice suggest that some types of IF accumulations, reminiscent of those found in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), can have deleterious effects and even cause neurodegeneration. Additional evidence for the involvement of IFs in pathogenesis came from the recent discovery of neurofilament gene mutations linked to ALS and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT2E). Conversely, we discuss how certain types of perikaryal neurofilament aggregates might confer protection in motor neuron disease.</p>

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