We report here the isolation and characterization of three antisera, each of which is specific for a single keratin from one of the three different pairs (K1/K10, K14/K5, K16/K6) that are differentially expressed in normal human epidermis and in epidermal diseases of hyperproliferation. We have used these antisera in conjunction with monospecific cRNA probes for epidermal keratin mRNAs to investigate pathways of differentiation in human epidermis and epidermal diseases in vivo and in epidermal cells cultured from normal skin and from squamous cell carcinomas in vitro. Specifically, our results suggest that: (a) the basal-specific keratin mRNAs are down-regulated upon commitment to terminal differentiation, but their encoded proteins are stable, and can be detected throughout the spinous layers; (b) the hyperproliferation-associated keratin mRNAs are expressed at a low level throughout normal epidermis when their encoded proteins are not expressed, but are synthesized at high levels in the suprabasal layers of hyperproliferating epidermis, coincident with the induced expression of the hyperproliferation-associated keratins in these cells; and (c) concomitantly with the induction of the hyperproliferation-associated keratins in the suprabasal layers of the epidermis is the down-regulation of the expression of the terminal differentiation-specific keratins. These data have important implications for our understanding of normal epidermal differentiation and the deviations from this process in the course of epidermal diseases of hyperproliferation.

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