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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the cytoskeleton
  • Compare the roles of microfilaments, intermediate filaments, and microtubules
  • Compare and contrast cilia and flagella
  • Summarize the differences among the components of prokaryotic cells, animal cells, and plant cells

If you were to remove all the organelles from a cell, would the plasma membrane and the cytoplasm be the only components left? No. Within the cytoplasm, there would still be ions and organic molecules, plus a network of protein fibers that help maintain the shape of the cell, secure some organelles in specific positions, allow cytoplasm and vesicles to move within the cell, and enable cells within multicellular organisms to move. Collectively, this network of protein fibers is known as the cytoskeleton    . There are three types of fibers within the cytoskeleton: microfilaments, intermediate filaments, and microtubules ( [link] ). Here, we will examine each.

Microfilaments line the inside of the plasma membrane, whereas microfilaments radiate out from the center of the cell. Intermediate filaments form a network throughout the cell that holds organelles in place.
Microfilaments thicken the cortex around the inner edge of a cell; like rubber bands, they resist tension. Microtubules are found in the interior of the cell where they maintain cell shape by resisting compressive forces. Intermediate filaments are found throughout the cell and hold organelles in place.


Of the three types of protein fibers in the cytoskeleton, microfilaments are the narrowest. They function in cellular movement, have a diameter of about 7 nm, and are made of two intertwined strands of a globular protein called actin ( [link] ). For this reason, microfilaments are also known as actin filaments.

This illustration shows two actin filaments wound together. Each actin filament is composed of many actin subunits connected together to form a chain.
Microfilaments are made of two intertwined strands of actin.

Actin is powered by ATP to assemble its filamentous form, which serves as a track for the movement of a motor protein called myosin. This enables actin to engage in cellular events requiring motion, such as cell division in animal cells and cytoplasmic streaming, which is the circular movement of the cell cytoplasm in plant cells. Actin and myosin are plentiful in muscle cells. When your actin and myosin filaments slide past each other, your muscles contract.

Microfilaments also provide some rigidity and shape to the cell. They can depolymerize (disassemble) and reform quickly, thus enabling a cell to change its shape and move. White blood cells (your body’s infection-fighting cells) make good use of this ability. They can move to the site of an infection and phagocytize the pathogen.

To see an example of a white blood cell in action, click here and watch a short time-lapse video of the cell capturing two bacteria. It engulfs one and then moves on to the other.

Intermediate filaments

Intermediate filaments are made of several strands of fibrous proteins that are wound together ( [link] ). These elements of the cytoskeleton get their name from the fact that their diameter, 8 to 10 nm, is between those of microfilaments and microtubules.

This illustration shows 10 intermediate filament fibers bundled together.
Intermediate filaments consist of several intertwined strands of fibrous proteins.

Intermediate filaments have no role in cell movement. Their function is purely structural. They bear tension, thus maintaining the shape of the cell, and anchor the nucleus and other organelles in place. [link] shows how intermediate filaments create a supportive scaffolding inside the cell.

Questions & Answers

Simple term of science
Palesa Reply
what does it mean
it's means what do u know about biology?
what is immunisation
what is the biology? what do you know about biology
Phathu Reply
biology is the study of living organisms, divided into many specialized fields that cover their morphology, physiology, anatomy, behavior, origin, and distribution.
The study of all aspects of life. The study of all living organisms (such as animal cells and plant cells) in greater detail (their structure and how they function). It's a very broad science.
what is prokaryotic
Bhaskar Reply
what is pathogens
transistion metals....
Wasik Reply
Why study ecology
Amos Reply
What name is given to group 8metals on a periodic table
what is evolution
Elia Reply
Is the gradual change of something it can be either organisms
which of the following statements about the moss life cycle is false?
Israel Reply
posterior lobe of pitutary contains what?
MR Reply
What if vincristine and colchicibe disrupt mitosis by binding to tubulin
Rohith Reply
A plant in the understory of a forest displays a segmented stem and slender leaves arranged in a whorl. It is probably....
Israel Reply
How did the development of a vascular system contribute to the increase in size of plants?
If a flower lacked a megasporangium and microsporangium, what type of gametes would not form?
Seed plants are.. A. all homosporous B. mostly homosporous with some heterosporous C. mostly heterosporous with some homosporous D. all heterosporous
Besides the seed, what other major structure diminishes a plant's reliance on water for reproduction?
what role did the adaptations of seed and pollen play in the development and expansion of seed plants?
Some cycads are considered endangered species and their trade is severely restricted. Customs officials stop suspected smugglers who claim that the plants in their possession are palm trees, not cycads. How would a botanist distinguish between the two types of plants?
What are the two structures that allow angiosperms to be the dominant form of plant life in most terrestrial ecosystems?
how are carbohydrates,proteins and fats formed from triose phosphate
fonyuy Reply
Why does the actin filament only move in one direction? Describe in great detail.
Lashonda Reply
Two events happen when calcium binds to troponin.
which of the following statements about plant division is false?
Israel Reply
😂😂😂 i dont know how i reached here
What are the events that occur in each phase of interphase
Hazey Reply
what is photosynthesis
Victor Reply
The process plants use to convert sunlight into food (energy).
Some other organisms use
types of photosynthesis
ps1 and ps2

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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