RhoA activation by CNFy restores cell–cell adhesion in kindlin-2-deficient keratinocytes

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Kindlins are a family of integrin adapter and cell–matrix adhesion proteins causally linked to human genetic disorders. Kindlin-2 is a ubiquitously expressed protein with manifold functions and interactions. The contribution of kindlin-2 to integrin-based cell–matrix adhesions has been extensively explored, while other integrin-independent roles emerge. Because of the early involvement of kindlin-2 in development, no viable animal models with its constitutional knockout are available to study its physiological functions in adult skin. Here, we uncovered a critical physiological role of kindlin-2 in the epidermis by using a skin-equivalent model with shRNA-mediated knock-down of kindlin-2 in keratinocytes. Kindlin-2-deficient keratinocytes built stratified epidermal layers, but displayed impaired dermal–epidermal and intra-epidermal adhesion and barrier function. Co-immunoprecipitation studies demonstrated that kindlin-2 interacts with both integrin- and cadherin-based adhesions. In kindlin-2-deficient keratinocytes, reduced cell–cell adhesion was associated with abnormal cytoplasmic distribution of adherens junctions and desmosomal proteins, which was dependent on RhoA activation. Direct activation of RhoA with recombinant bacterial cytotoxic necrotizing factor y (CNFy) reverted the abnormal phenotype and barrier function of kindlin-2-deficient keratinocytes and skin equivalents. These findings have physiological and pathological significance, since kindlin-2 expression modulates the phenotype in Kindler syndrome, a skin fragility disorder caused by kindlin-1 deficiency. Our results suggest that pharmacological regulation of RhoGTPase activity may represent a therapeutic option for skin fragility.

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