Intermediate filaments are general constituents of the cytoskeleton. The function of these structures and the requirement for different types of intermediate filament proteins by individual cells are only partly understood. Here we have addressed the role of specific intermediate filament protein partnerships in the formation of intermediate filaments in astrocytes. Astrocytes may express three types of intermediate filament proteins: glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), vimentin, and nestin. We used mice with targeted mutations in the GFAP or vimentin genes, or both, to study the impact of loss of either or both of these proteins on intermediate filament formation in cultured astrocytes and in normal or reactive astrocytes in vivo. We report that nestin cannot form intermediate filaments on its own, that vimentin may form intermediate filaments with either nestin or GFAP as obligatory partners, and that GFAP is the only intermediate filament protein of the three that may form filaments on its own. However, such filaments show abnormal organization. Aberrant intermediate filament formation is linked to diseases affecting epithelial, neuronal, and muscle cells. Here we present models by which the normal and pathogenic functions of intermediate filaments may be elucidated in astrocytes.