Vimentin filaments follow the preexisting cytokeratin network during epithelial-mesenchymal transition of cultured neonatal rat hepatocytes

Exp Cell Res. 1996 Feb 1;222(2):333-44. doi: 10.1006/excr.1996.0043.


Changes in cell cytoskeleton are known to play an important role in differentiation and embryogenesis and also in carcinogenesis. Previous studies indicated that neonatal hepatocytes undergo an epithelial-mesenchymal transition when cultured in a serum-free medium for several days. Here we show by Western blotting of neonatal rat liver cells cultured for 3 days that vimentin and cytokeratin were expressed by these cells. Epidermal growth factor treatment induced high coexpression of vimentin and cytokeratin filaments in hepatocytes from neonatal livers, as detected by double immunofluorescence microscopy. Confocal scanning laser microscopy was used to determine the spatial and cell distribution of cytokeratin and vimentin intermediate filament networks. Vimentin-expressing hepatocytes were mainly located on the periphery of epithelial clusters and presented a migratory morphology, suggesting that vimentin expression was related to the loss of cell-cell contact. Short vimentin filaments were mainly located at the cytoplasmic sites behind the extending lamella. Horizontal and vertical dual imaging of double immunofluorescence with anti-vimentin and anti-cytokeratin antibodies indicated that both filaments colocalize strongly. Three-dimensional reconstruction of serial optical sections revealed that newly synthesized vimentin distributed following the preexisting cytokeratin network and, when present, both filament scaffolds codistributed inside cultured hepatocytes. Immunoelectron microscopy performed in whole-mount-extracted cultured cells revealed that both filaments are closely interrelated but independent. However, a high degree of immunogold colocalization was found in the knots of the filament network. Further experiments with colcemide and cytochalasin treatment indicated that vimentin filament distribution, but not cytokeratin, was dependent on an intact microtubule network. These results are consistent with a mechanism of vimentin assembly, whereby growth of vimentin intermediate filaments is dependent on microtubules in topographically restricted cytoplasmic sites, in close relation to the cytokeratin cytoskeleton and to changes in cell-cell contact and cell shape.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Albumins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Antibody Specificity
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured / chemistry
  • Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured / physiology
  • Cytochalasin D / pharmacology
  • Cytoskeleton / chemistry*
  • Demecolcine / pharmacology
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / pharmacology
  • Epithelium / chemistry
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Keratins / analysis*
  • Keratins / immunology
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Liver / cytology*
  • Mesoderm / chemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Rats
  • Vimentin / analysis*
  • Vimentin / immunology
  • Vimentin / metabolism


  • Albumins
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Vimentin
  • Cytochalasin D
  • Epidermal Growth Factor
  • Keratins
  • Demecolcine