Vimentin Intermediate Filaments Template Microtubule Networks to Enhance Persistence in Cell Polarity and Directed Migration

Cell Syst. 2016 Sep 28;3(3):252-263.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.cels.2016.08.007. Epub 2016 Sep 22.


Increased expression of vimentin intermediate filaments (VIFs) enhances directed cell migration, but the mechanism behind VIFs' effect on motility is not understood. VIFs interact with microtubules, whose organization contributes to polarity maintenance in migrating cells. Here, we characterize the dynamic coordination of VIF and microtubule networks in wounded monolayers of retinal pigment epithelial cells. By genome editing, we fluorescently labeled endogenous vimentin and α-tubulin, and we developed computational image analysis to delineate architecture and interactions of the two networks. Our results show that VIFs assemble an ultrastructural copy of the previously polarized microtubule network. Because the VIF network is long-lived compared to the microtubule network, VIFs template future microtubule growth along previous microtubule tracks, thus providing a feedback mechanism that maintains cell polarity. VIF knockdown prevents cells from polarizing and migrating properly during wound healing. We suggest that VIFs' templating function establishes a memory in microtubule organization that enhances persistence in cell polarization in general and migration in particular.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Polarity
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Intermediate Filaments
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Microtubules*
  • Tubulin
  • Vimentin


  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Tubulin
  • Vimentin