We report here on the in vivo assembly of alpha-internexin, a type IV neuronal intermediate filament protein, in transfected cultured cells, comparing its assembly properties with those of the neurofilament triplet proteins (NF-L, NF-M, and NF-H). Like the neurofilament triplet proteins, alpha-internexin coassembles with vimentin into filaments. To study the assembly characteristics of these proteins in the absence of a preexisting filament network, transient transfection experiments were performed with a non-neuronal cell line lacking cytoplasmic intermediate filaments. The results showed that only alpha-internexin was able to self-assemble into extensive filamentous networks. In contrast, the neurofilament triplet proteins were incapable of homopolymeric assembly into filamentous arrays in vivo. NF-L coassembled with either NF-M or NF-H into filamentous structures in the transfected cells, but NF-M could not form filaments with NF-H. alpha-internexin could coassemble with each of the neurofilament triplet proteins in the transfected cells to form filaments. When all but 2 and 10 amino acid residues were removed from the tail domains of NF-L and NF-M, respectively, the resulting NF-L and NF-M deletion mutants retained the ability to coassemble with alpha-internexin into filamentous networks. These mutants were also capable of forming filaments with other wild-type neurofilament triplet protein subunits. These results suggest that the tail domains of NF-L and NF-M are dispensable for normal coassembly of each of these proteins with other type IV intermediate filament proteins to form filaments.

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