Repeated epilation (Er) is a radiation-induced, autosomal, incomplete dominant mutation in mice which is expressed in heterozygotes but is lethal in the homozygous condition. Many effects of the mutation occur in skin: the epidermis in Er/Er mice is adhesive (oral and nasal orifices fuse, limbs adhere to the body wall), hyperplastic, and fails to undergo terminal differentiation. Skin from fetal +/+, Er/+ and Er/Er mice at ages pre- and postkeratinization examined by light, scanning, and transmission electron microscopy showed marked abnormalities in tissue architecture, differentiation, and cell structure; light and dark basal epidermal cells were separated by wide intercellular spaces, joined by few desmosomes, and contained phagolysomes. The numbers of spinous, granular, and superficial layers were highly variable within any given region and among various regions of the body. In some areas, 2-8 layers of granular cells, containing large or diminutive keratohyalin granules, extended to the epidermal surface; in others, the granular layers were covered by several layers of partially keratinized or nonkeratinized cells. In rare instances, a single or small group of cornified cells was present among the granular layers but was not associated with the epidermal surface. Both the granular and nonkeratinized/partially keratinized upper epidermal layers Er/Er skin gave positive immunofluorescence with antiserum to the histidine-rich, basic protein, filaggrin. Proteins in epidermal extracts from +/+, Er/+ and Er/Er mice were separated and identified by radio- and immunolabeling techniques. The Er/Er extract was missing a 26.5- kdalton protein and had an altered ratio of bands in the keratin region. The 26.5-kdalton band was histidine-rich and cross-reacted with the antiserum to rat filaggrin. Several high molecular weight bands present in both Er/Er and +/+ extracts also reacted with the antiserum. These are presumed to be the precursors of filaggrin and to account for the immunofluorescence om Er/Er epidermis even though the product protein is absent. The morphologic and biochemical data indicated that the genetic defect has a general and profound influence on epidermal differentiation, including alteration of two proteins (filaggrin and keratin) important in normal terminal differentiation, tissue architecture, and cytology. Identification of epidermal abnormalities at early stages of development (prekeratinization) and defective structure of other tissues and gross anatomy suggest that the mutation is responsible for a defect in same regulatory step important in many processes of differentiation and development.

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