The expression of the large chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan versican was studied in human adult skin. For this purpose, bacterial fusion proteins containing unique portions of the versican core protein were prepared. Polyclonal antibodies against the fusion proteins specifically reacted with versican from a proteoglycan fraction of MG63 osteosarcoma cells. In immunohistochemical experiments, the affinity-purified antibodies localized versican in the stratum basale of the epidermis, as well as in the papillary and reticular layers of the dermis. An apparent codistribution of versican with the various fiber forms of the elastic network of the dermis suggested an association of versican with microfibrils. Both dermal fibroblasts and keratinocytes expressed versican in culture during active cell proliferation. In line with the observation that versican is absent in the suprabasal layers of the epidermis where keratinocytes terminally differentiate, culture conditions promoting keratinocyte differentiation induced a down-regulation of versican synthesis. In Northern blots versican mRNA could be detected in extracts from proliferating keratinocytes and dermal fibroblasts. Comparison of RNA preparations from semi-confluent and confluent fibroblast cultures demonstrated decreasing amounts of versican mRNA at higher cell densities. This inverse correlation of versican expression and cell density was confirmed by indirect immunofluorescence staining of cultured fibroblasts and keratinocytes. The localization of versican in the basal zone of the epidermis as well as the density dependence of versican in cell cultures suggest a general function of versican in cell proliferation processes that may not solely be confined to the skin.

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