High stretchability, strength, and toughness of living cells enabled by hyperelastic vimentin intermediate filaments

Jiliang Hu, Yiwei Li, Yukun Hao, Tianqi Zheng, Satish K. Gupta, German Alberto Parada, Huayin Wu, Shaoting Lin, Shida Wang, Xuanhe Zhao, Robert D. Goldman, Shengqiang Cai, Ming Guo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In many developmental and pathological processes, including cellular migration during normal development and invasion in cancer metastasis, cells are required to withstand severe deformations. The structural integrity of eukaryotic cells under small deformations has been known to depend on the cytoskeleton including actin filaments (F-actin), microtubules (MT), and intermediate filaments (IFs). However, it remains unclear how cells resist severe deformations since both F-actin and microtubules yield or disassemble under moderate strains. Using vimentin containing IFs (VIFs) as a model for studying the large family of IF proteins, we demonstrate that they dominate cytoplasmic mechanics and maintain cell viability at large deformations. Our results show that cytoskeletal VIFs form a stretchable, hyperelastic network in living cells. This network works synergistically with other cytoplasmic components, substantially enhancing the strength, stretchability, resilience, and toughness of cells. Moreover, we find the hyperelastic VIF network, together with other quickly recoverable cytoskeletal components, forms a mechanically robust structure which can mechanically recover after damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17175-17180
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 27 2019


  • Cell mechanics
  • Cytoplasm
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Intermediate filament
  • Vimentin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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