<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
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

what is abiotic and biotic factors?
Hira Reply
which of the following shows the correct sequence of the cell cycle
Kameishia Reply
who is name virus
Shivam Reply
centromere consist of
meeting point of two chromatids
Explain the function of nematocysts in cnidarians?
Israel Reply
The nemotocyst is used by Cnidarians (hydra, jellyfish, sea anemones) to sting their prey and any threatening enemy.
photosynthesis in plants is an example of what ? (a) excretion (b) irritability (c) nutrition (d) reproduction
Lee Reply
If a Hox 13 gene in a mouse was replaced with a Hox 1 gene, how might this alter animal development?
Israel Reply
Which of the following organisms is most likely to be a diploblast?
what are reactions of photosynthesis?
Maria Reply
what are the probabilities of blood genotypes for the offspring from a cross between a mother lAlA blood and a father with lBi blood?
dayana Reply
what is matter
Emmanuel Reply
matter is anything that has mass and can occupied space
example of matter
You serves as an example of matter Because matter is anything that has mass and occupy space e.g man and every other things that exist on earth.. So think of every other things around you ...
and you too
We generally
What is ecological management
how the kidney functions as osmoregulatory organ
Sam Reply
That true
what is the major connection for sugars in glycolysis?
Ibrahim Reply
Simple term of science
Palesa Reply
what does it mean
it's means what do u know about biology?
what is immunisation
the action of making a person immune to infections ,for 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
pathogens are a bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.
transistion metals....
Wasik Reply

Get the best Biology course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Biology' conversation and receive update notifications?