The expression of keratin 18 (K18) is restricted in humans primarily to a variety of single layered or simple epithelia. However, direct introduction of a cloned K18 gene into cultured, somatic cells by DNA transfection has been shown to result in the promiscuous expression of K18 even while the endogenous mouse form of K18 (Endo B) remains silent. To determine if the cloned K18 genomic DNA fragment contains sufficient information to be regulated appropriately when subjected to a normal developmental environment, and to determine if the cloned gene is expressed in diverse epithelia, the K18 gene, including 2.5 kb of 5' flanking sequence and 3.5 kb of 3' flanking sequence, has been introduced into the germ line of mice. Mice from all three resulting K18 transgenic lines express the gene in an appropriate tissue-specific pattern that includes hepatocytes, simple epithelia of the intestinal tract, ductal cells of several glands and epithelial cells of the thymus. No expression of K18 was found in muscle, heart, or in most of the brain even in mice carrying 18 copies of the K18 gene. In most tissues, the level of K18 RNA was directly proportional to copy number and was as efficiently expressed as the endogenous Endo B gene. The K18 protein was identified by both protein blotting methods and indirect immunofluorescence staining. No pathological consequences of overexpression of the K18 gene were observed. The cloned K18 gene appears to contain all cis-acting DNA sequences necessary for appropriate expression. In addition, diverse epithelial cell types are able to express this single human gene.

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