The ability of the myogenic determination gene (MyoD1) to convert differentiating human keratinocytes (HaCaT cell-line) to the myogenic pathway and the effect of MyoD1 on the epidermal phenotype was studied in culture and in surface transplants on nude mice. MyoD1 transfection induced the synthesis of myosin, desmin, and vimentin without substantially altering the epidermal differentiation properties (morphology, keratin profile) in vitro nor epidermal morphogenesis (formation of a complex stratified squamous epithelium) in surface transplants, demonstrating the stability of the keratinocyte phenotype. 5-Aza-CdR treatment of these MyoD1-transfected cells had little effect on the cultured cells but a morphologically unstructured epithelium was formed with no indications of typical cell layers including cornification. Since prevention of epidermal strata in transplants was not accompanied by blocked epidermal differentiation markers (keratins K1 and K10, involucrin, and filaggrin), the dissociation of morphogenesis and expression of these markers argues for independently controlled processes. A subpopulation of less adhesive cells, isolated from the 5-aza-CdR treated MyoD1-transfectants, had lost most epithelial characteristics in culture (epidermal keratins, desmosomal proteins, and surface-glycoprotein Gp90) and had shifted to a mesenchymal/myogenic phenotype (fibroblastic morphology, transactivation of Myf3 and myogenin, expression of myosin, desmin, vimentin, and Gp130). Moreover, the cells had lost the ability to stratify and remained as a monolayer of flat elongated cells in transplants. These subsequent changes from a fully differentiated keratinocyte to a mesenchymal/myogenic phenotype strongly argue for a complex "transdifferentiation" process which occurred in the original monoclonal human epidermal HaCaT cells.

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