In addition to containing microtubule and microfilament systems, vertebrate epithelial cells contain an elaborate keratin intermediate-filament cytoskeleton. Little is known about its structural organization or function. Using indirect immunofluorescence microscopy with an antikeratin antiserum probe, we found that destabilization of microtubules and microfilaments with cytostatic drugs induces significant alterations in the cytoskeletal organization of keratin filaments in HeLa and fetal mouse epidermal cells. Keratin filament organization was observed to undergo a rapid (1-2 h) transition from a uniform distribution to an open lattice of keratin fibers stabilized by membrane-associated focal centers. Since addition of any one drug alone did not elicit significant organizational change in the keratin cytoskeleton, we suggest that microfilaments and microtubules have a combined role in maintaining the arrangement of keratin in these cells. Vimentin filaments, the only other intermediate-sized filaments found in HeLa cells, did not co-distribute with keratin in untreated or drug-treated cells. These findings offer a new way to approach the study of the dynamics and functional roles of the keratin cytoskeleton in epithelial cells.

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