Expression of keratin K14 in the epidermis and hair-follicle: Insights into complex programs of differentiation

P. A. Coulombe, R. Kopan, E. Fuchs

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139 Scopus citations


Keratins K14 and K5 have long been considered to be biochemical markers of the stratified squamous epithelia, including epidermis (Moll, R., W. Franke, D. Schiller, B. Geiger, and R. Krepler. 1982. Cell. 31:11-24; Nelson W., and T.-T. Sun. 1983. J. Cell Biol. 97:244-251). When cells of most stratified squamous epithelia differentiate, they downregulate expression of mRNAs encoding these two keratins and induce expression of new sets of keratins specific for individual programs of epithelial differentiation. Frequently, as in the case of epidermis, the expression of differentiation-specific keratins also leads to a reorganization of the keratin filament network, including denser bundling of the keratin fibers. We report here the use of monospecific antisera and cRNA probes to examine the differential expression of keratin K14 in the complex tissue of human skin. Using in situ hybridizations and immunoelectron microscopy, we find that the patterns of K14 expression and filament organization in the hair follicle are strikingly different from epidermis. Some of the mitotically active outer root sheath (ORS) cells, which give rise to ORS under normal circumstances and to epidermis during wound healing, produce only low levels of K14. These cells have fewer keratin filaments than basal epidermal cells, and the filaments are organized into looser, more delicate bundles than is typical for epidermis. As these cells differentiate, they elevate their expression of K14 and produce denser bundles of keratin filaments more typical of epidermis. In contrast to basal cells of epidermis and ORS, matrix cells, which are relatively undifferentiated and which can give rise to inner root sheath, cuticle and hair shaft, show no evidence of K14, K14 mRNA expression, or keratin filament formation. As matrix cells differentiate, they produce hair-specific keratins and dense bundles of keratin filaments but they do not induce K14 expression. Collectively, the patterns of K14 and K14 mRNA expression and filament organization in mitotically active epithelial cells of the skin correlate with their relative degree of pluripotency, and this suggests a possible basis for the deviation of hair follicle programs of differentiation from those of other stratified squamous epithelia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2295-2312
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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