Keratin function in skin epithelia: a broadening palette with surprising shades

Li Hong Gu, Pierre A. Coulombe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Keratins make up the largest subgroup of intermediate filament (IF) proteins and form a dynamic network of 10-12 nm filaments, built from type I/type II heterodimers, in the cytoplasm of epithelial cells. A major function of keratin IFs is to protect epithelial cells from mechanical and non-mechanical stresses that cause cell rupture and death. Interference with this role is the root cause of a large number of inherited epithelial fragility conditions. Additional functions, non-mechanical in nature, are manifested in a way that depends on the specific keratin and on the epithelial context. The recent discovery of unusual mutations affecting keratin proteins has uncovered a novel dimension of their mechanical support function, and has synergized with mouse genetics to reveal a role in skin pigmentation. Other studies extended the role of keratin proteins in regulating the response to pro-apoptotic signals, and revealed their ability to modulate protein synthesis and cell size in epithelial cells challenged to grow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-23
Number of pages11
JournalCurrent Opinion in Cell Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology

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