• vimentin;
  • intermediate filaments;
  • site-directed spin labeling;
  • electron paramagnetic resonance


Very little data have been reported that describe the structure of the tail domain of any cytoplasmic intermediate filament (IF) protein. We report here the results of studies using site directed spin labeling and electron paramagnetic resonance (SDSL-EPR) to explore the structure and dynamics of the tail domain of human vimentin in tetramers (protofilaments) and filaments. The data demonstrate that in contrast to the vimentin head and rod domains, the tail domains are not closely apposed in protofilaments. However, upon assembly into intact IFs, several sites, including positions 445, 446, 451, and 452, the conserved “beta-site,” become closely apposed, indicating dynamic changes in tail domain structure that accompany filament elongation. No evidence is seen for coiled-coil structure within the region studied, in either protofilaments or assembled filaments. EPR analysis also establishes that more than half of the tail domain is very flexible in both the assembly intermediate and the intact IF. However, by positioning the spin label at distinct sites, EPR is able to identify both the rod proximal region and sites flanking the beta-site motif as rigid locations within the tail. The rod proximal region is well assembled at the tetramer stage with only slight changes occurring during filament elongation. In contrast, at the beta site, the polypeptide backbone transitions from flexible in the assembly intermediate to much more rigid in the intact IF. These data support a model in which the distal tail domain structure undergoes significant conformational change during filament elongation and final assembly.