Restrained Terminal Differentiation and Sustained Stemness in Neonatal Skin by Ha-Ras and Bcl-2

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Nonmelanoma skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States. Deregulation of bcl-2 and ras family members is commonly observed in nonmelanoma skin cancer. It has been previously demonstrated that simultaneous bcl-2 and Ha-ras gene expression in keratinocytes results in resistance to cell death induced by ultraviolet radiation and enhanced multistep skin carcinogenesis. In this study, we aimed to elucidate the central roles of Ha-Ras and Bcl-2 in maintaining epidermal homeostasis. To assess the effect of deregulated Ha-Ras and Bcl-2 on skin differentiation, we have generated skin-specific transgenic mouse model constitutively expressing both oncogenic Ha-Ras and Bcl-2. Ectopic expression of Ha-Ras and Bcl-2 in newborn double transgenic epidermal keratinocytes induced abnormal epidermal differentiation accompanied by increased cell proliferation and suppressed apoptotic cell death, which resulted in thickened and wrinkled skin morphology in neonate skins. Expression of epidermal differentiation marker cytokeratin 1 was decreased. Expression of other differentiation markers loricrin and filaggrin was also decreased and delayed to be detected only in the upper stratum granulosum, whereas the proliferative markers cytokeratin 14 and cytokeratin 6, which are expressed in constitutively proliferative basal layer and stem cell niches such as hair follicles or neoplastic lesions, respectively, were highly expressed. The abnormal expression of epidermal cytokeratins suggests that Ha-Ras and Bcl-2 suppress the terminal differentiation and sustain the stem cell–like features in epidermal keratinocytes.

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