The pupoid fetus (pf) and repeated epilation (Er) mutations of mice result in a failure of epidermal differentiation in homozygotes. Expression of the epidermal keratins has been followed in pf/pf and Er/Er mice by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, and by immunohistochemistry and Western blotting using polyclonal antibodies that are monospecific for individual keratin polypeptides. Our results show that expression of the differentiation-specific keratins (K1 and K10) is delayed in both the pf/pf and Er/Er mutants and that, when these keratins do appear later in development, they are localized in the deeper layers of the thickened mutant epidermis. Conversely, K6 and K16, two keratins found in low abundance in normal epidermis, are abundant in mutant epidermis. In newborn mutant epidermis, K6 and K16 are found to be most abundant in the outermost epidermal cells, a distribution opposite to that of K1 and K10. These findings suggest that the expression of these hyperplastic keratins in mutant mice may occur to the exclusion of the differentiation-specific keratins both during development and in newborn animals. Differentiation, and an apparently normal pattern of keratin expression, occur when whole pf/pf or Er/Er skin is grafted to normal mice. These results suggest that the pf and Er genes may be expressed systemically and that transfer of the mutant skin to a "normal" environment results in the recovery of a normal phenotype.

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