Five different fibroblast strains derived from donors of a wide range of ages were used for investigation of senescence-associated changes in the organization of intermediate filaments (IFs) and the activity of cell locomotion. Results of immunofluorescence microscopy demonstrate that, in large and flat in vitro aged fibroblasts, vimentin-containing IFs are distributed as unusually organized large bundles. Electron microscopic examination shows that these large bundles are indeed composed of filaments of 8-10 nm. Such a profile of large bundles is rarely seen in young fibroblasts whose IFs are usually interdispersed among microtubules. Within the large filament bundles of senescent fibroblasts, cross-bridge-like extensions are frequently observed along the individual IFs. Immunogold labeling with antibody to one of the cross-bridging proteins, p50, further illustrates the abundance of interfilament links within the IF bundles. The senescence-related increase in interfilament association was also supported by the results of co-precipitation between vimentin and an associated protein of 50,000 D. Time-lapse cinematographic studies of cell locomotion reveal that accompanying aging, fibroblasts have a significantly reduced ability to translocate across a solid substratum. These results led me to suggest that the increased interfilament links via cross-bridges may in part contribute to the mechanism that orchestrates the formation of large filament bundles. The presence of enormous bundles in the cytoplasm may physically impede the efficiency of locomotion for these nondividing cells.

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