The Journal of investigative dermatology

Keratin classes: molecular markers for different types of epithelial differentiation.

PMID 6190956


Keratins are a group of water-insoluble proteins (molecular weight range 40-70 K) that form 10-nm tonofilaments in a wide variety of epithelial cells. The subunit composition of the keratin filaments varies with cell type, period of embryonic development, stage of histologic differentiation, cellular growth environment, and disease state. To better understand the functional significance of individual keratin species, we have generated three monoclonal antikeratin antibodies to different subsets of keratins and used these antibodies to localize specific keratins in normal human epidermis by a combination of immunohistochemical and biochemical techniques. The results indicate that the 50 K and 58 K keratins are present in all cell layers including the relatively undifferentiated basal layer, whereas the 56.5 K and 65-67 K keratins are associated only with the more differentiated cells above the basal layer. In a separate series of experiments, we used the monoclonal antibodies to survey the keratins expressed by various nonepidermal epithelia. The data show that keratins can be divided into at least seven major classes according to their immunologic reactivity and size. Among the keratin classes, the 50 K and 58 K classes appear to be characteristic of all stratified squamous epithelia, whereas the 56.5 K and 65-67 K classes are unique to the keratinized epidermis. These findings suggest that specific keratin classes, as defined by monoclonal antibodies, may serve as useful markers for different types of epithelial differentiation (simple versus stratified, keratinized versus nonkeratinized).