Peripherin is a subunit of peripheral nerve neurofilaments: implications for differential vulnerability of CNS and peripheral nervous system axons

J Neurosci. 2012 Jun 20;32(25):8501-8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1081-12.2012.


Peripherin, a neuronal intermediate filament protein implicated in neurodegenerative disease, coexists with the neurofilament triplet proteins [neurofilament light (NFL), medium (NFM), and heavy (NFH) chain] but has an unknown function. The earlier peak expression of peripherin than the triplet during brain development and its ability to form homopolymers, unlike the triplet, which are obligate heteropolymers, have supported a widely held view that peripherin and neurofilament triplets form separate filament systems. However, here, we demonstrate that, despite a postnatal decline in expression, peripherin is as abundant as the triplet in the adult PNS and exists in a relatively fixed stoichiometry with these subunits. Peripherin exhibits a distribution pattern identical to those of triplet proteins in sciatic axons and colocalizes with NFL on single neurofilaments by immunogold electron microscopy. Peripherin also coassembles into a single network of filaments containing NFL, NFM, and NFH with and without α-internexin in quadruple- or quintuple-transfected SW13vim(-) cells. Genetically deleting NFL in mice dramatically reduces peripherin content in sciatic axons. Moreover, peripherin mutations has been shown to disrupt the neurofilament network in transfected SW13vim(-) cells. These data show that peripherin and the neurofilament proteins are functionally interdependent. The results strongly support the view that, rather than forming an independent structure, peripherin is a subunit of neurofilaments in the adult PNS. Our findings provide a basis for its close relationship with neurofilaments in PNS diseases associated with neurofilament accumulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Blotting, Western
  • Central Nervous System / cytology
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System / ultrastructure
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurofilament Proteins / metabolism*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / cytology
  • Peripheral Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / ultrastructure
  • Peripherins
  • Sciatic Nerve / cytology
  • Sciatic Nerve / metabolism
  • Transfection


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neurofilament Proteins
  • Peripherins
  • alpha-internexin