The type II keratin 6 (K6) features a complex expression pattern, with a constitutive component in a subset of stratified epithelia and an inducible component following injury and other types of acute challenges. Multiple genes encoding highly related K6 isoforms have been described for human and bovine, a unique feature among mammalian keratin genes. Here we report on the cloning and characterization of two functional genes and their cDNAs encoding the K6 isoforms in mouse and two related pseudogenes. A systematic comparison of the mouse and human K6 genes suggests that they evolved independently after these species diverged. The mK6α and mK6β genes are organized in tandem with the same transcriptional orientation in the mouse genome. Similar to the human isoforms, the coding sequences for mK6α and mK6β isoforms show ~95% identity. The two mouse K6 genes are differentially regulated at the mRNA level in several stratified epithelia. The mK6α isoform mRNA clearly predominates in intact trunk skin of adult mice, where it is restricted to the outer root sheath of hair follicles. Both mRNAs are induced in epidermis and proximal hair follicles as early as 1 h following acute injury or topical application of phorbol esters and subsequently increase to a comparable extent but with different kinetics. These novel findings have important implications for the evolution, regulation, and function of K6 genes in mammalian species.
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