Late in terminal differentiation, human epidermal keratinocytes form an insoluble protein envelope on the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane. Involucrin, a soluble protein precursor of the envelope, is synthesized at an earlier stage of differentiation, both in the natural epithelium and in cultured keratinocytes. Because keratinocytes are known to enlarge during differentiation, we looked for a correlation between involucrin synthesis and cell size, using antiserum raised against the purified protein. We found that virtually no cultured epidermal keratinocytes with a diameter less than or equal to 14 micrometer contained involucrin, but most cells greater than 17 micrometer did. Using density gradient centrifugation, we were able to isolate a population of small cells containing almost no involucrin, as judged by immunodiffusion, PAGE, and immunoprecipitation. Large cells possessed translatable mRNA for involucrin, whereas small cells did not. We conclude that when cultured keratinocytes reach a certain size (approximately 14 micrometer in diameter) the specific mRNA for involucrin begins to accumulate and synthesis of the protein begins.

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