Actin and microtubules in cell motility: which one is in control?

Traffic. 2004 Jul;5(7):470-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0854.2004.00196.x.


The cytoskeleton is composed of three distinct elements: actin microfilaments, microtubules and intermediate filaments. The actin cytoskeleton is thought to provide protrusive and contractile forces, and microtubules to form a polarized network allowing organelle and protein movement throughout the cell. Intermediate filaments are generally considered the most rigid component, responsible for the maintenance of the overall cell shape. Cytoskeletal elements must be coordinately regulated for the cell to fulfill complex cellular functions, as diverse as cell migration, cell adhesion and cell division. Coordination between cytoskeletal elements is achieved by signaling pathways, involving common regulators such as the Rho guanosine-5'-triphosphatases (GTPases). Furthermore, evidence is now accumulating that cytoskeletal elements participate in regulating each other. As a consequence, although their functions seem well defined, they are in fact overlapping, with actin playing a role in membrane trafficking and microtubules being involved in the control of protrusive and contractile forces. This cytoskeletal crosstalk is both direct and mediated by signaling molecules. Cell motility is a well-studied example where the interplay between actin and microtubules appears bidirectional. This leads us to wonder which, if any, cytoskeletal element leads the way.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Actins / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Movement
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Signal Transduction
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism


  • Actins
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins