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Biochem Cell Biol. 2001;79(5):543-55.

Keratin-mediated resistance to stress and apoptosis in simple epithelial cells in relation to health and disease.

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Centre de recherche en cancérologie et Departement de médecine, Université Laval, Quebec, QC, Canada.


Epithelial cells such as hepatocytes exhibit highly polarized properties as a result of the asymmetric distribution of subsets of receptors at unique portions of the surface membrane. While the proper targeting of these surface receptors and maintenance of the resulting polarity depend on microtubules (MTs), the Golgi sorting compartment, and different actin-filament networks, the contribution of keratin intermediate filaments (IFs) has been unclear. Recent data show that the latter cytoskeletal network plays a predominant role in providing resistance to various forms of stress and to apoptosis targeted to the surface membrane. In this context, we first summarize our knowledge of the domain- or assembly-related features of IF proteins and the dynamic properties of IF networks that may explain how the same keratin pair K8/K18 can exert multiple resistance-related functions in simple epithelial cells. We then examine the contribution of linker protein(s) that integrate interactions of keratin IFs with MTs and the actin-cytoskeleton network, polarity-dependent surface receptors and cytoplasmic organelles. We next address likely molecular mechanisms by which K8/K18 can selectively provide resistance to a mechanical or toxic stress, or to Fas-mediated apoptosis. Finally, these issues on keratin structure-function are examined within a context of pathological anomalies emerging in tissue architecture as a result of natural or targeted mutations, or posttranslational modifications at specific amino acid residues. Clearly. the data accumulated in recent years provide new and significant insights on the role of K8/K18, particularly under conditions where polarized cells resist to stressful or apoptotic insults.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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