Epidermal keratinocyte (KC), the major cell type in the skin epidermis, plays critical roles in forming a permeability barrier to separate internal organs from external stimuli. Keratins, constituting about 30–80% of the total protein in KCs, form the major intermediate filament cytoskeleton of KC. Keratins consist of 54 unique genes in humans and they are expressed in cell-, differentiation- and development-dependent manner. While keratin pairs K5-K14 and K1-K10 are normally associated with KCs at different cell differentiation stages, other keratin pairs such as K6-K16/K17 and K8–K18 and are usually not expressed in normal skin interfollicular epidermis, but are elevated during wounding, inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis or malignant conversion of KC. The expression and function of keratins are tightly regulated at both transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. Inherited or spontaneous mutations in keratins or abnormal keratin regulations or modifications can cause KC and cutaneous tissue fragility, skin hypertrophic and inflammatory conditions or malignant transformation of KC, therefore accounting for a large number of disorders in human skin. Here we review the recent literature on how keratins are normally expressed during skin development and how mutations or misregulations of these keratins are involved in the pathogenesis of skin diseases.
Part of the book: Keratin