Functional Differences between Keratins of Stratified and Simple Epithelia

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Dividing populations of stratified and simple epithelial tissues express keratins 5 and 14, and keratins 8 and 18, respectively. It has been suggested that these keratins form a mechanical framework important to cellular integrity, since their absence gives rise to a blistering skin disorder in neonatal epidermis, and hemorrhaging within the embryonic liver. An unresolved fundamental issue is whether different keratins perform unique functions in epithelia. We now address this question using transgenic technology to express a K16-14 hybrid epidermal keratin transgene and a K18 simple epithelial keratin transgene in the epidermis of mice null for K14. Under conditions where the hybrid epidermal keratin restored a wild-type phenotype to newborn epidermis, K18 partially but not fully rescued. The explanation does not appear to reside in an inability of K18 to form 10-nm filaments with K5, which it does in vitro and in vivo. Rather, it appears that the keratin network formed between K5 and K18 is deficient in withstanding mechanical stress, leading to perturbations in the keratin network in regions of the skin that are subjected either to natural or to mechanically induced trauma. Taken together, these findings suggest that the loss of a type I epidermal keratin cannot be fully compensated by its counterpart of simple epithelial cells, and that in vivo, all keratins are not equivalent.

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