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Tonofibrils are cytoplasmic protein structures in epithelial tissues that converge at desmosomes and hemidesmosomes. [1] They consist of fine fibrils in epithelial cells that are anchored to the cytoskeleton. [2] They were discovered by Rudolf Heidenhain, and first described in detail by Louis-Antoine Ranvier in 1897. [3]



Tonofilaments are keratin intermediate filaments that makes up tonofibrils in the epithelial tissue. In epithelial cells, tonofilaments loop through desmosomes. Electron microscopy has advanced now to illustrate the Tonofilaments more clearly. [1]

The protein filaggrin is believed to have an important role in holding them together as tonofibrils. This protein is known to interact with intermediate filaments, specifically keratins. It is synthesized as a giant Precursor protein, profilaggrin (>400 kDA in humans). When the filaggrin binds to keratin intermediate filaments, it causes aggregation in macrofibrils. [2]

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Keratin One of a family of fibrous structural proteins; protein that protects epithelial cells from damage or stress

Keratin is one of a family of fibrous structural proteins known as scleroproteins. α-Keratin is a type of keratin found in vertebrates. It is the key structural material making up scales, hair, nails, feathers, horns, claws, hooves, calluses, and the outer layer of skin among vertebrates. Keratin also protects epithelial cells from damage or stress. Keratin is extremely insoluble in water and organic solvents. Keratin monomers assemble into bundles to form intermediate filaments, which are tough and form strong unmineralized epidermal appendages found in reptiles, birds, amphibians, and mammals. The only other biological matter known to approximate the toughness of keratinized tissue is chitin. Keratin comes in two types, the primitive, softer forms found in all vertebrates and harder, derived forms found only among sauropsids . Keratin resists digestion, which is why cats regurgitate hairballs.

Cytoskeleton Network of filamentous proteins that forms the internal framework of cells

The cytoskeleton is a complex, dynamic network of interlinking protein filaments present in the cytoplasm of all cells, including bacteria and archaea. It extends from the cell nucleus to the cell membrane and is composed of similar proteins in the various organisms. In eukaryotes, it is composed of three main components, microfilaments, intermediate filaments and microtubules, and these are all capable of rapid growth or disassembly dependent on the cell's requirements.

Intermediate filament

Intermediate filaments (IFs) are cytoskeletal structural components found in the cells of vertebrates, and many invertebrates. Homologues of the IF protein have been noted in an invertebrate, the cephalochordate Branchiostoma.

Desmosome Strong cell junction involved in cell-to-cell adhesion

A desmosome, also known as a macula adherens, is a cell structure specialized for cell-to-cell adhesion. A type of junctional complex, they are localized spot-like adhesions randomly arranged on the lateral sides of plasma membranes. Desmosomes are one of the stronger cell-to-cell adhesion types and are found in tissue that experience intense mechanical stress, such as cardiac muscle tissue, bladder tissue, gastrointestinal mucosa, and epithelia.

Keratin 6A

Keratin 6A is one of the 27 different type II keratins expressed in humans. Keratin 6A was the first type II keratin sequence determined. Analysis of the sequence of this keratin together with that of the first type I keratin led to the discovery of the four helical domains in the central rod of keratins. In humans Keratin 6A is encoded by the KRT6A gene.

Keratin 14

Keratin 14 is a member of the type I keratin family of intermediate filament proteins. Keratin 14 was the first type I keratin sequence determined. Keratin 14 is also known as cytokeratin-14 (CK-14) or keratin-14 (KRT14). In humans it is encoded by the KRT14 gene.

Keratin 19

Keratin, type I cytoskeletal 19 also known as cytokeratin-19 (CK-19) or keratin-19 (K19) is a 40 kDa protein that in humans is encoded by the KRT19 gene. Keratin 19 is a type I keratin.

Keratin 18

Keratin 18 is a type I cytokeratin. It is, together with its filament partner keratin 8, perhaps the most commonly found products of the intermediate filament gene family. They are expressed in single layer epithelial tissues of the body. Mutations in this gene have been linked to cryptogenic cirrhosis. Two transcript variants encoding the same protein have been found for this gene.


Cytokeratins are keratin proteins found in the intracytoplasmic cytoskeleton of epithelial tissue. They are an important component of intermediate filaments, which help cells resist mechanical stress. Expression of these cytokeratins within epithelial cells is largely specific to particular organs or tissues. Thus they are used clinically to identify the cell of origin of various human tumors.


Hemidesmosomes are very small stud-like structures found in keratinocytes of the epidermis of skin that attach to the extracellular matrix. They are similar in form to desmosomes when visualized by electron microscopy, however, desmosomes attach to adjacent cells. Hemidesmosomes are also comparable to focal adhesions, as they both attach cells to the extracellular matrix. Instead of desmogleins and desmocollins in the extracellular space, hemidesmosomes utilize integrins. Hemidesmosomes are found in epithelial cells connecting the basal epithelial cells to the lamina lucida, which is part of the basal lamina. Hemidesmosomes are also involved in signaling pathways, such as keratinocyte migration or carcinoma cell intrusion.

Transitional epithelium

Transitional epithelium is a type of stratified epithelium. This tissue consists of multiple layers of epithelial cells which can contract and expand in order to adapt to the degree of distension needed. Transitional epithelium lines the organs of the urinary system and is known here as urothelium. The bladder for example has a need for great distension.

Cell junctions are a class of cellular structures consisting of multiprotein complexes that provide contact or adhesion between neighboring cells or between a cell and the extracellular matrix in animals. They also maintain the paracellular barrier of epithelia and control paracellular transport. Cell junctions are especially abundant in epithelial tissues. Combined with cell adhesion molecules and extracellular matrix, cell junctions help hold animal cells together.


Desmoplakin is a protein in humans that is encoded by the DSP gene. Desmoplakin is a critical component of desmosome structures in cardiac muscle and epidermal cells, which function to maintain the structural integrity at adjacent cell contacts. In cardiac muscle, desmoplakin is localized to intercalated discs which mechanically couple cardiac cells to function in a coordinated syncytial structure. Mutations in desmoplakin have been shown to play a role in dilated cardiomyopathy, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, striate palmoplantar keratoderma, Carvajal syndrome and paraneoplastic pemphigus.

Keratin 8

Keratin, type II cytoskeletal 8 also known as cytokeratin-8 (CK-8) or keratin-8 (K8) is a keratin protein that is encoded in humans by the KRT8 gene. It is often paired with keratin 18.

Keratin 5

Keratin 5, also known as KRT5, K5, or CK5, is a protein that is encoded in humans by the KRT5 gene. It dimerizes with keratin 14 and forms the intermediate filaments (IF) that make up the cytoskeleton of basal epithelial cells. This protein is involved in several diseases including epidermolysis bullosa simplex and breast and lung cancers.

Keratin 6C

Keratin 6C, is a type II cytokeratin, one of a number of isoforms of keratin 6 encoded by separate genes located within the type II keratin gene cluster on human chromosome 12q. This gene was uncovered recently by the Human Genome Project and its expression patterns in humans remains unknown.

Keratohyalin is a protein structure found in cytoplasmic granules of the keratinocytes in the stratum granulosum of the epidermis. Keratohyalin granules (KHG) mainly consist of keratin, profilaggrin, loricrin and trichohyalin proteins which contribute to cornification or keratinization, the process of the formation of epidermal cornified cell envelope. During the keratinocyte differentiation, these granules maturate and expand in size, which leads to the conversion of keratin tonofilaments into a homogenous keratin matrix, an important step in cornification.


Pinin is a protein that in humans is encoded by the PNN gene.


Periplakin is a protein that in humans is encoded by the PPL gene.


Plakophilin-1 is a protein that in humans is encoded by the PKP1 gene.


  1. 1 2 " tonofibril " at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  2. 1 2 Sandilands, Aileen; Sutherland, Calum; Irvine, Alan D.; McLean, W. H. Irwin (2009-05-01). "Filaggrin in the frontline: role in skin barrier function and disease". J Cell Sci. 122 (9): 1285–1294. doi:10.1242/jcs.033969. ISSN   0021-9533. PMC   2721001 . PMID   19386895.
  3. Charles, Arwyn; Smiddy, F. G. (1957-09-01). "The Tonofibrils of the Human Epidermis1". Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 29 (5): 327–338. doi:10.1038/jid.1957.108. ISSN   0022-202X. PMID   13502588.