Keratin intermediate filaments (IFs) form cross-linked arrays to fulfill their structural support function in epithelial cells and tissues subjected to external stress. How the cross-linking of keratin IFs impacts the morphology and differentiation of keratinocytes in the epidermis and related surface epithelia remains an open question. Experimental measurements have established that keratinocyte spreading area is inversely correlated to the extent of keratin IF bundling in two-dimensional culture. In an effort to quantitatively explain this relationship, we developed a mathematical model in which isotropic cell spreading is considered as a first approximation. Relevant physical properties such as actin protrusion, adhesion events, and the corresponding response of lamellum formation at the cell periphery are included in this model. Through optimization with experimental data that relate time-dependent changes in keratinocyte surface area during spreading, our simulation results confirm the notion that the organization and mechanical properties of cross-linked keratin filaments affect cell spreading; in addition, our results provide details of the kinetics of this effect. These in silico findings provide further support for the notion that differentiation-related changes in the density and intracellular organization of keratin IFs affect tissue architecture in epidermis and related stratified epithelia.
ASJC Scopus subject areas