Microfilaments vs. Microtubules

What's the Difference?

Microfilaments and microtubules are both components of the cytoskeleton, which provides structural support and helps maintain the shape of cells. However, they differ in their composition and functions. Microfilaments are made up of actin proteins and are responsible for cell movement, contraction, and maintaining cell shape. They form a network of filaments that can be rearranged to facilitate cell motility. On the other hand, microtubules are composed of tubulin proteins and are involved in cell division, intracellular transport, and maintaining cell shape. They form a rigid structure that acts as a track for motor proteins to transport organelles and vesicles within the cell. Overall, microfilaments and microtubules play distinct roles in cellular processes, but both are essential for maintaining cell structure and function.


StructureThin, solid, filamentous structuresHollow, tubular structures
CompositionPrimarily composed of actin proteinsPrimarily composed of tubulin proteins
DiameterApproximately 7-9 nmApproximately 25 nm
FunctionCellular movement, cell division, maintenance of cell shapeCellular transport, maintenance of cell shape, formation of mitotic spindle
Motor ProteinsMyosinDynein, kinesin
LocationFound throughout the cytoplasm, especially near the cell peripheryFound throughout the cytoplasm, radiating from the centrosome
Resistance to DepolymerizationRelatively stableDynamic and can undergo rapid depolymerization and polymerization

Further Detail


Microfilaments and microtubules are two types of cytoskeletal filaments found in eukaryotic cells. They play crucial roles in maintaining cell shape, providing mechanical support, facilitating cell movement, and organizing intracellular components. While both microfilaments and microtubules are involved in cellular processes, they differ in their structure, composition, function, and organization within the cell.

Structure and Composition

Microfilaments, also known as actin filaments, are thin, flexible filaments composed of actin protein subunits. Actin subunits polymerize to form long, helical chains that are approximately 7 nm in diameter. These filaments can exist as single strands or bundle together to form thicker structures. Microfilaments are highly dynamic and can rapidly assemble and disassemble, allowing cells to quickly remodel their shape and generate forces for movement.

On the other hand, microtubules are hollow, tubular structures composed of tubulin protein subunits. Tubulin subunits polymerize to form protofilaments, which then associate laterally to create a cylindrical structure with a diameter of about 25 nm. Microtubules are more rigid compared to microfilaments and provide structural support to the cell. They also serve as tracks for intracellular transport, allowing various organelles and vesicles to move within the cell.


Microfilaments are involved in a wide range of cellular processes. They play a crucial role in cell motility, enabling cells to crawl, contract, and divide. Actin filaments are responsible for the formation of lamellipodia and filopodia, which are dynamic protrusions involved in cell migration. Microfilaments also participate in cytokinesis, the process of cell division, by forming a contractile ring that pinches the cell into two daughter cells.

Microtubules, on the other hand, are essential for maintaining cell shape and providing structural support. They form the main component of the cell's cytoskeleton and help resist compressive forces. Microtubules are also involved in intracellular transport, facilitating the movement of vesicles, organelles, and other cellular components. Additionally, microtubules are crucial during cell division, as they form the mitotic spindle, which separates chromosomes into daughter cells.

Organization within the Cell

Microfilaments are distributed throughout the cytoplasm in a dynamic and organized manner. They often form dense networks just beneath the plasma membrane, providing mechanical support and maintaining cell shape. Actin filaments are also found in stress fibers, which are contractile bundles that span the cell and transmit forces. Additionally, microfilaments are involved in the formation of specialized structures like microvilli, which increase the surface area of cells involved in absorption.

Microtubules, on the other hand, radiate from a microtubule organizing center (MTOC) called the centrosome. The centrosome contains a pair of centrioles and serves as the main site for microtubule nucleation and organization. From the centrosome, microtubules extend throughout the cytoplasm, forming a network that provides structural support and facilitates intracellular transport. During cell division, microtubules organize into the mitotic spindle, which ensures accurate chromosome segregation.

Regulation and Interactions

Both microfilaments and microtubules are regulated by a variety of proteins that control their assembly, disassembly, and organization. Actin-binding proteins, such as profilin and cofilin, regulate actin filament dynamics and promote their polymerization or depolymerization. Actin filaments also interact with myosin motor proteins, enabling them to generate contractile forces and drive cellular movements.

Microtubules are regulated by proteins like tau and MAPs (microtubule-associated proteins), which stabilize or destabilize microtubule structures. Motor proteins, such as kinesins and dyneins, move along microtubules and transport cargo to specific destinations within the cell. These motor proteins play a crucial role in intracellular transport and the positioning of organelles.


Microfilaments and microtubules are fundamental components of the cytoskeleton, contributing to cell shape, mechanical support, cell motility, and intracellular transport. While microfilaments are thin, flexible filaments composed of actin, microtubules are hollow, tubular structures composed of tubulin. Microfilaments are involved in cell motility and cytokinesis, while microtubules provide structural support and facilitate intracellular transport. Both filaments are regulated by various proteins and interact with motor proteins to perform their functions. Understanding the attributes of microfilaments and microtubules is crucial for unraveling the complex mechanisms underlying cellular processes and their dysregulation in various diseases.

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