Exploring the Mechanical Properties of Single Vimentin Intermediate Filaments by Atomic Force Microscopy
Intermediate filaments (IFs), together with actin filaments and microtubules, compose the cytoskeleton. Among other functions, Ts impart mechanical stability to cells when exposed to mechanical stress and act as a support when the other cytoskeletal filaments cannot keep the structural integrity of the cells. Here we present a study on the bending properties of single vimentin Ts in which we used an atomic force microscopy (AFM) tip to elastically deform single filaments hanging over a porous membrane. We obtained a value for the bending modulus of non-stabilized IFs between 300 MPa. and 400 MPa. Our results together with previous ones suggest that lFs present axial sliding between their constitutive building blocks and therefore have a bending modulus that depends on the filament length. Measurements of glutaraldehyde-stabilized filaments were also performed to reduce the axial sliding between subunits and therefore provide a lower limit estimate of the Young's modulus of the filaments. The results show an increment of two to three times in the bending modulus for the stabilized Ts with respect to the non-stabilized ones, suggesting that the Young's modulus of vimentin IFs should be around 900 MPa or higher.