Epithelial-mesenchymal interactions control epidermal growth and differentiation, but little is known about the mechanisms of this interaction. We have examined the effects of human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (DMEC) and fibroblasts on keratinocytes in conventional (feeder layer) and organotypic cocultures (lifted collagen gels) and demonstrated the induction of paracrine growth factor gene expression. Clonal keratinocyte growth was similarly stimulated in cocultures with irradiated DMEC and fibroblasts as feeder cells. This effect is most probably caused by induction of growth factor expression in cocultured dermal cells. Keratinocytes stimulated mRNA levels for KGF and IL-6 in both mesenchymal cell types and GM-CSF in fibroblasts. The feeder effect could not be replaced by conditioned media or addition of isolated growth factors. In organotypic cocultures with keratinocytes growing on collagen gels (repopulated with dermal cells), a virtually normal epidermis was formed within 7 to 10 d. Keratinocyte proliferation was drastically stimulated by dermal cells (histone 3 mRNA expression and BrdU labeling) which continued to proliferate as well in the gel. Expression of all typical differentiation markers was provoked in the reconstituted epithelium, though with different localization as compared to normal epidermis. Keratins K1 and K10 appeared coexpressed but delayed, reflecting conditions in epidermal hyperplasia. Keratin localization and proliferation were normalized under in vivo conditions, i.e., in surface transplants on nude mice. From these data it is concluded that epidermal homeostasis is in part controlled by complex reciprocally induced paracrine acting factors in concert with cell-cell interactions and extracellular matrix influences.

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