What is the cytoskeleton and its characteristics

The components of our cells need to always be in constant movement, that is why each cell must have a structure that is capable of maintaining order, even when the cell is going through various changes. This structure that is responsible for fulfilling the above is known as the cytoskeleton, and we can find it throughout the entire cell cytoplasm.

The discovery of this important structure in the cell of eukaryotes occurred between 1975 and 1979 by a research group headed by Keith Porter. The group made known to the scientific community that in the cell there was a kind of network made of fibrillar proteins, which extended from the nucleus to the periphery of the cell.

If you are interested in knowing more about what the cytoskeleton is, what its function and structure is , then we invite you to continue reading this interesting article where you will learn about it and the importance it plays in the cell.

What is the cytoskeleton and its characteristics

The cytoskeleton is a very dynamic protein structure in the form of a network that extends throughout the cell. Since our cells are always changing, the cytoskeleton plays the role of being a changing framework that allows the organization of all cellular components (organelles, substances, etc.). The role that this structure of the cell plays is crucial in cellular functions, since it not only acts as the bones of the cell, but is also like its muscles.

Some important characteristics about the cytoskeleton are the following:

  • It is made up of 3 structural components , which are: microtubules, microfilaments and intermediate filaments.
  • Formed by protein filaments that are capable of being easily assembled and dismantled depending on cellular demands.
  • The units that make up the cytoskeleton continually go from being attached to being loose in the cytosol .
  • It is exclusive to animal and plant cells , however, it was found that prokaryotic cells also have a very similar cytoskeleton.

Cytoskeleton function

The cytoskeleton performs important functions within the cell, which is why we present some of them below:

  • It establishes the unique shape of the cell , and when there is any deformity, it reacts and repairs it immediately.
  • It adapts to the different changes in shape that the cell may have, thus allowing the order of the components in the cytoplasm.
  • It organizes the organelles and other substances present in the cytoplasm of the cell.
  • It intervenes in cell division , since it is mainly responsible for separating each chromosome, and also plays the role of dividing the cell in two during cytokinesis.
  • It gives consistency to animal cells , because without the cytoskeleton the cell membrane would break very easily due to cellular movements.
  • You may be interested in this article about cellular organelles: what they are, functions and examples .

Cytoskeleton structure

The structure of the cytoskeleton is made up of 3 components: microtubules, microfilaments and intermediate filaments. Below we will explain each of them:


Microtubules are present in eukaryotic cells , and have a diameter that varies between 22 to 24 nm. This component of the cytoskeleton has a tubular structure that is seen in the shape of a ring when a transverse section is made, and as two parallel lines when a longitudinal section is made. On the other hand, microtubules, in eukaryotic cells, are made of globular proteins called tubulins . These tubulins are each made up of α-tubulin and β-tubulin.

One fact about microtubules is their essential ability to increase or decrease in size at important moments, when cellular activities occur. These long tubes made of proteins can continue to grow at their ends thanks to the incorporation of tubulin dimers (α-tubulin and β-tubulin).


Microfilaments are found in eukaryotic cells , and have an average diameter of 6 nm. This component of the cytoskeleton structure is made up of actin filaments , which are formed by the globular protein actin (G-actin) and filamentous actin (F-actin). Microfilaments appear much thinner, more flexible, and shorter than microtubules.

The function of microfilaments in the cytoskeleton is to face and resist the stresses of cellular movements .

Intermediate filaments

Intermediate filaments are not found in all eukaryotic cells, only in animal cells of vertebrates and some invertebrates . They have a diameter that varies between 8 to 10 nm. This component of the cytoskeleton is made up of various types of proteins , an example is keratin. Likewise, the intermediate filaments are located forming a network throughout the cytoplasm, also enveloping the nucleus and unfolding towards the periphery of the cell.

The main function of intermediate filaments is to provide support to the structure of the cell and serve as anchors for organelles and the nucleus.

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