To examine the role of keratin intermediate filament proteins in cell structure and function, transgenic mice were isolated that express a modified form of the human K14 keratin protein in liver hepatocytes. A modified K14 cDNA (K14.P) sequence was linked downstream of the mouse transthyretin (TTR) gene promoter and enhancer elements to achieve targeted expression in hepatocytes. Hepatocytes expressing high levels of the transgene were found to have abnormal keratin filament networks as detected by indirect immunofluorescence using an antibody specific for the transgene product. Light and electron microscopic level histological analysis of isolated liver tissue showed in many cases degenerative changes that included inflammatory infiltration, ballooning degeneration, an increase in fat containing vacuoles, and glycogen accumulation. These changes were most evident in older mice over four months of age. No indication of typical Mallory body structures were identified at either the light or electron microscopic level. To evaluate secretory function in transgenic livers, bile acid secretion rates were measured in isolated perfused liver and found to be approximately twofold lower than aged-matched controls. These findings indicate that expression of an abnormal keratin in liver epithelial cells in the in vivo setting can alter the structure and function of a tissue and suggest a role of the keratin network in cellular secretion.

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