Nanomechanical properties of desmin intermediate filaments

B. Kiss, Á Karsai, M. S.Z. Kellermayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

37 Citations (Scopus)


Desmin intermediate filaments play important role in the mechanical integrity and elasticity of muscle cells. The mechanisms of how desmin contributes to cellular mechanics are little understood. Here, we explored the nanomechanics of desmin by manipulating individual filaments with atomic force microscopy. In complex, hierarchical force responses we identified recurring features which likely correspond to distinct properties and structural transitions related to desmin's extensibility and elasticity. The most frequently observed feature is an initial unbinding transition that corresponds to the removal of ∼45-nm-long coiled-coil dimers from the filament surface with 20-60 pN forces in usually two discrete steps. In tethers longer than 60 nm we most often observed force plateaus studded with bumps spaced ∼16 nm apart, which are likely caused by a combination of protofilament unzipping, dimer-dimer sliding and coiled-coil-domain unfolding events. At high stresses and strains non-linear, entropic elasticity was dominant, and sometimes repetitive sawtooth force transitions were seen which might arise because of slippage within the desmin protofilament. A model is proposed in which mechanical yielding is caused by coiled-coil domain unfolding and dimer-dimer sliding/slippage, and strain hardening by the entropic elasticity of partially unfolded protofilaments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-339
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2006


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Desmin
  • Elasticity
  • Force spectroscopy
  • Sliding
  • Unzipping
  • Wormlike chain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology

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