A major function shared by several types of cytoplasmic intermediate filaments (IFs) is to stabilize cellular architecture against the mechanical forces it is subjected to. As for other fibrous cytoskeletal arrays, a crucial determinant of this function is the spatial organization of IFs in the cytoplasm. However, very few crossbridging proteins are specific for IFs - most IF-associated proteins known to exert a structural role act to tether IFs to other major cytoskeletal elements, such as F-actin, microtubules or adhesion complexes. In addition, IFs are endowed with the ability to participate in their own organization. This intriguing property is probably connected to the unusual degree of sequence diversity and sequence-specific regulation that characterize IF genes and their proteins. This dependence upon a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic determinants contributes to distinguish IFs from other fibrous cytoskeletal polymers and is key to their function.