The properties regulating the supramolecular organization of neural intermediate filament (NIF) networks have been investigated in cultured dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. The studies described take advantage of the ability of endogenous NIF to incorporate purified biotinylated neurofilament triplet (NFT) proteins, NF-L, NF-M and NF-H. When injected at concentrations of 0.8-1.0 mg/ml injection buffer, each of these proteins is incorporated without perturbing the endogenous NIF network. However, at progressively higher concentrations, NF-H induces the aggregation and accumulation of NIF in the cell body. Subsequent to the induction of these aggregates, numerous alterations in the cytoarchitecture of neurons can be detected. The latter occur in a temporal sequence which appears to begin with the fragmentation of the Golgi complex. At later times, accumulation of mitochondria within the proximal region of neurites, peripheralization of the nucleus, and a significant decrease in neurite caliber become obvious. After longer time periods, the NIF aggregates are seen to react with an antibody which reveals abnormally phosphorylated NF-H. These observations demonstrate that an imbalance in the normal stoichiometric relationships among the NFT proteins rapidly alters the supramolecular organization of the NIF network. These changes most likely reflect the normal functions of neurofilaments in cell shape and the organization and cytoplasmic distribution of membranous organelles. Interestingly, virtually all of these changes closely resemble those which have been reported in motor neuron diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). These findings suggest that cultured neurons can be used as models for more precisely defining the relationships between the formation of NIF aggregates and the sequence of cytopathological events which typify neurodegenerative diseases.