A role for intermediate filaments in the establishment of the primitive epithelia during mammalian embryogenesis

Stella M. Schwarz, G. Ian Gallicano, Robert W. McGaughey, David Capco

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15 Scopus citations


Investigations of the cytoskeleton in mammalian eggs and embryos have revealed the existence of an unusual array of crosslinked intermediate filaments composed of cytokeratins 5, 6, 16, and 'Z' that are referred to as cytoskeletal sheets. We have been investigating the function of these cytoskeletal sheets during embryogenesis. In this investigation we report the rapid appearance of extensive arrays of tonofilaments extending across blastomeres and in association with intercellular desmosomal junctions appearing at the time the embryo hatches from its zona pellucida, through the time of implantation of the embryo into the uterine wall. Just prior to the time of gastrulation these tonofilaments disappear. Electron microscopy and immunoconfocal microscopy demonstrate that the tonofilaments are composed of cytokeratins characteristic of the type found earlier in development, that is types 5 and 6; whereas, cytokeratin type 8 which has been shown to be synthesized in blastocysts is localized primarily at perinuclear regions. Cytokeratins 8 and 18 are synthesized to about the same extent as actin at the time the tonofilaments appear whereas the synthesis of cytokeratins 5 an 6 is greatly reduced. Our results suggest that cytokeratins 5 and 6 in the tonofilaments may arise from the stored form of cytokeratins in the cytoskeletal sheets. Consequently, our results suggest that the sheets may serve as a maternal reserve of cytokeratin employed by the embryo at the time of implantation to form extensive arrays of tonofilaments in the embryo that likely provide structural integrity to the embryo as it is subjected to mechanical stress during invasion and implantation into the uterine wall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-321
Number of pages17
JournalMechanisms of Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1995


  • Cytokeratin
  • Cytoskeletal sheets
  • Embryogenesis
  • Intermediate filaments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Embryology
  • Developmental Biology


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