The cytoskeleton is a network of thin tubes and filaments that crisscrosses the cytosol. The tubes and filaments give shape to the cell from the inside in the same way that tent poles support the shape of a tent. The cytoskeleton also acts as a system of internal tracks, shown in Figure 4-18, on which items move around inside the cell. The cytoskeleton's functions are based on several structural elements. Three of these are microtubules, microfilaments, and intermediate filaments, shown and described in Table 4-2.


Microtubules are hollow tubes made of a protein called tubulin. Each tubulin molecule consists of two slightly different subunits. Microtubules radiate outward from a central point called the centrosome near the nucleus. Microtubules hold organelles in place, maintain a cell's shape, and act as tracks that guide organelles and molecules as they move within the cell.


Finer than microtubules, microfilaments are long threads of the beadlike protein actin and are linked end to end and wrapped around each other like two strands of a rope. Microfilaments contribute to cell movement, including the crawling of white blood cells and the contraction of muscle cells.

Intermediate Filaments

Intermediate filaments are rods that anchor the nucleus and some other organelles to their places in the cell. They maintain the internal shape of the nucleus. Hair-follicle cells produce large quantities of intermediate filament proteins. These proteins make up most of the hair shaft.

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