We have tested the requirement of keratin intermediate filaments for the formation and function of a simple epithelium. We disrupted both alleles of the mouse keratin 8 (mK8) gene in embryonic stem cells, and subsequently analyzed the phenotype in developing embryoid bodies in suspension culture. After the inactivation of the mouse keratin 8 (mK8) gene by a targeted insertion, mK8 protein synthesis was undetectable. In the absence of mK8 its complementary partners mK18 and mK19 were unable to form filaments within differentiated cells. Surprisingly, these ES cells differentiate to both simple and cystic embryoid bodies with apparently normal epithelia. Ultrastructural analysis shows an apparently normal epithelium with microvilli on the apical membrane, tight junctions and desmosomes on the lateral membrane, and an underlying basal membrane. No significant differences in the synthesis or secretion of alpha 1-fetoprotein and laminin were observed between the mK8- or wild-type embryoid bodies. Our data show that mK8 is not required for simple epithelium formation of extraembryonic endoderm.

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