We have analysed the expression of keratins in the epidermis of normal human palm and sole skin (ridged skin) using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. The epidermis of human ridged skin expresses a more complex pattern of keratins than thin skin, which is probably due to the greater stress that ridged skin has to withstand. In addition to keratin K9, we document specific expression patterns of keratins K6, K16 and K17 which are suggestive of regional adaptations of this epidermis to a high cell turnover rate. In particular, the sequestered location of nests of K17-positive cells at the bottom of the deep primary epidermal ridges supports the notion of functional heterogeneity of basal cells and suggests that the K17-positive sites may include stem cells. Expression of K6 and K16 in some basal and most suprabasal keratinocytes is compatible with a constitutively high proliferative activity of normal ridged epidermis, but may also reflect different physical properties of the suprabasal cells, in contrast with regions expressing K9. The distinct labelling patterns observed in primary and secondary epidermal ridges as well as epidermal layers above dermal papillae suggest the existence of local microenvironmental niches leading to differences in keratinocyte differentiation.