Using immunofluorescence microscopy and two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, we compared the cytoskeletal proteins expressed by human amnion epithelium in situ, obtained from pregnancies of from 10-wk to birth, with the corresponding proteins from cultured amnion epithelial cells and cultures of cells from the amniotic fluid of 16 week pregnancies. Epithelia of week 16 fetuses already display tissue-specific patterns of cytokeratin polypeptides which are similar, although not identical, to those of the corresponding adult tissues. In the case of the simple amnion epithelium, a complex and characteristic complement of cytokeratin polypeptides of Mr 58,000 (No. 5), 56,000 (No. 6), 54,000 (No. 7), 52,500 (No. 8), 50,000 (No. 14), 46,000 (No. 17), 45,000 (No. 18), and 40,000 (No. 19) is present by week 10 of pregnancy and is essentially maintained until birth, with the addition of cytokeratin No. 4 (Mr 59,000) and the disappearance of No. 7 (Mr 54,000) at week 16 of pregnancy. In full-term placentae, the amnion epithelium displays two morphologically distinct regions, i.e., a simple and a stratified epithelium, both of which express the typical amnion cytokeratin polypeptides. However, in addition the stratified epithelium also synthesizes large amounts of special epidermal cytokeratins such as No. 1 (Mr 68,000), 10 (Mr 56,500), and 11 (Mr 56,000). In culture amnion epithelial cells obtained from either 16-wk pregnancies or full-term placentae will continue to synthesize the amnion-typical cytokeratin pattern, except for a loss of detection of component No. 4. This pattern is considerably different from the cytokeratins synthesized by cultures of cells from amniotic fluids (cytokeratins No. 7, 8, 18, and 19, sometimes with trace amounts of No. 17) and from several so-called "amnion epithelial cell lines." In addition, amnion epithelial cells in situ as well as amnion epithelial cell cultures appear to be heterogeneous in that they possess some cells that co-express cytokeratins and vimentin. These observations lead to several important conclusions: In contrast to the general concept of recent literature, positively charged cytokeratins of the group No. 4-6 can be synthesized in a simple, i.e., one-layered epithelium. The change from simple to stratified amnion epithelium does not require a cessation of synthesis of cytokeratins of the simple epithelium type, but in this case keratins characteristic of the terminally differentiated epidermis (No. 1, 10, and 11) are also synthesized.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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