Palmoplantar keratoderma (PPK) are debilitating lesions that arise in individuals with pachyonychia congenita (PC) and feature upregulation of danger-associated molecular patterns and skin barrier regulators. The defining features of PC-associated PPK are reproduced in mice null for keratin 16 (Krt16), which is commonly mutated in PC patients. Here, we have shown that PPK onset is preceded by oxidative stress in footpad skin of Krt16-/- mice and correlates with an inability of keratinocytes to sustain nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2 related factor 2-dependent (NRF2-dependent) synthesis of the cellular antioxidant glutathione (GSH). Additionally, examination of plantar skin biopsies from individuals with PC confirmed the presence of high levels of hypophosphorylated NRF2 in lesional tissue. In Krt16-/- mice, genetic ablation of Nrf2 worsened spontaneous skin lesions and accelerated PPK development in footpad skin. Hypoactivity of NRF2 in Krt16-/- footpad skin correlated with decreased levels or activity of upstream NRF2 activators, including PKCδ, receptor for activated C kinase 1 (RACK1), and p21. Topical application of the NRF2 activator sulforaphane to the footpad of Krt16-/- mice prevented the development of PPK and normalized redox balance via regeneration of GSH from existing cellular pools. Together, these findings point to oxidative stress and dysfunctional NRF2 as contributors to PPK pathogenesis, identify K16 as a regulator of NRF2 activation, and suggest that pharmacological activation of NRF2 should be further explored for PC treatment.
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