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The mammalian epidermis is a continually renewing structure that provides the interface between the organism and an innately hostile environment. The keratinocyte is its principal cell. Keratinocyte proteins form a physical epithelial barrier, protect against microbial damage, and prepare immune responses to danger. Epithelial immunity is disordered in many common diseases and disordered epithelial differentiation underlies many cancers. In order to identify the genes that mediate epithelial development we used a tissue model of the skin derived from primary human keratinocytes. We measured global gene expression in triplicate at five times over the ten days that the keratinocytes took to fully differentiate. We identified 1282 gene transcripts that significantly changed during differentiation (false discovery rate <0.01%). We robustly grouped these transcripts by K-means clustering into modules with distinct temporal expression patterns, shared regulatory motifs, and biological functions. We found a striking cluster of late expressed genes that form the structural and innate immune defences of the epithelial barrier. Gene Ontology analyses showed that undifferentiated keratinocytes were characterised by genes for motility and the adaptive immune response. We systematically identified calcium-binding genes, which may operate with the epidermal calcium gradient to control keratinocyte division during skin repair. The results provide multiple novel insights into keratinocyte biology, in particular providing a comprehensive list of known and previously unrecognised major components of the epidermal barrier. The findings provide a reference for subsequent understanding of how the barrier functions in health and disease.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0007651

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS One

Publication Date

30/10/2009

Volume

4

Keywords

Algorithms, Cell Differentiation, Cluster Analysis, Epidermal Cells, False Positive Reactions, Gene Expression Profiling, Gene Expression Regulation, Humans, Immune System, Keratinocytes, Models, Biological, Multigene Family, Nucleic Acid Hybridization, Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis, Promoter Regions, Genetic