Intracellular protein filaments intermediate in size between actin filaments and microtubules are composed of a variety of tissue specific proteins. The sequence conservation of the coiled-coil alpha-helical structure responsible for polymerization into individual 10 nm filaments defines a large gene family. Intermediate filaments (IFs) include the nuclear lamins, which are universal in Metazoans, and the cytoplasmic intermediate filaments, which are more varied and form cell type specific networks in animal cells. IFs all share a common tripartite structure consisting of a highly conserved central helical rod domain and variable N-head and C-tail domains. In contrast to actin and tubulin, IFs do not require nucleoside triphosphates such as ATP or GTP for polymerization but they self assemble. According to sequences, the IFs proteins are grouped into seven classes, including five cytoplasmic, one nuclear and one sub-cortical localizations. The search for functions of IFs has led to discoveries of roles in the skin, heart, muscle, liver and brain, in premature aging and of involvement in several degenerative disorders. Mutations in IFs cause or predispose to more than 80 human tissue-specific diseases. Mouse models and gene invalidation have been extremely helpful in eliciting IF role in physiopathology. Besides mechanical role in cell plasticity and stress absorbers, IF functions are related to the capacity to interact with signaling molecules and cell kinases, controlling gene regulatory networks. The reviews herein include a historical perspective about IFs, describe how mutations affect IF structure and assembly properties in desminopathies, inclusion formation in the neurodegenerative Alexander disease, and how they induce multiple disorders in laminopathies.