Smooth muscle cells possess a structural lattice composed of two primary parts: the xxxcytoskeletonxxx that pervades the cytoplasm and the xxxmembrane skeletonxxx that provides anchorage for the cytoskeleton and contractile apparatus at the cell surface. TI-le cytoskeleton contains two major components: first, a complement of actin filaments that links the cytoplasmic dense bodies at equispaced intervals in longitudinal fibrils, and second, a network of desmin intermediate filaments that co-distributes with the cytoskeletal actin. The actin filaments of the contractile apparatus are presumed to interface with the cytoskeleton at the cytoplasmic dense bodies and with the longitudinal rib-like arrays of dense plaques of the membrane skeleton that couple to the extracellular matrix. The present report focuses attention on the functional role of intermediate filaments and on the molecular domain structure of the protein calponin. which is found both in the cytoskeleton and the contractile apparatus. New information about the role of intermediate filaments in smooth muscle has come from studies of transgenic mice in which desmin expression has been ablated. These have shown that while desmin is dispensable for normal development and viability its absence has significant consequences for the mechanical properties of muscle tissue. Thus. the visceral smooth muscles develop only 40% of the normal contractile force and the maximal shortening velocity is reduced by 25-40%. Intermediate filaments therefore play an active role in force transmission and do not contribute solely to cell shape maintenance, as has hitherto been presumed. Recent studies on calponin have revealed a second actin binding domain at the C-terminus of the molecule and have also pinpointed an N-terminal domain that shares homology with a growing family of actin binding and signalling molecules. How these newly identified features of calponin relate to its function in vivo remains to be established.
Useful keywords (using NLM MeSH Indexing)
Muscle, Smooth, Vascular/physiology*
Muscle, Smooth, Vascular/ultrastructure*
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