How rapid cell multiplication leads to cell differentiation in developing tissues is still enigmatic. This question is central to morphogenesis, cell number control, and homeostasis. Self-renewal epidermoid epithelia are continuously exposed to mutagens and are the most common target of cancer. Unknown mechanisms commit rapidly proliferating cells to post-mitotic terminal differentiation. We have over-activated or inhibited the endogenous DNA damage response (DDR) pathways by combinations of activating TopBP1 protein, specific shRNAs, or chemical inhibitors for ATR, ATM, and/or DNA-PK. The results dissect and demonstrate that these signals control keratinocyte differentiation in proliferating cells independently of actual DNA damage. The DDR limits keratinocyte multiplication upon hyperproliferative stimuli. Moreover, knocking down H2AX, a common target of the DDR pathways, inhibits the epidermoid phenotype. The results altogether show that the DDR is required to maintain the balance proliferation differentiation and suggest that is part of the squamous program. We propose a homeostatic model where genetic damage is automatically and continuously cleansed by cell-autonomous mechanisms.

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