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Differentiation. 1990 Dec;45(3):230-41.

Three distinct keratinocyte subtypes identified in human oral epithelium by their patterns of keratin expression in culture and in xenografts.

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Division of Cell Growth and Regulation, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA.


We have characterized the cells that form the human oral epithelia by analyzing their patterns of keratin expression in culture and in transplants. Keratinocytes of all oral regions synthesized high levels of keratins K5/K14 and K6/K16,K17, as expressed by cells of all stratified squamous epithelia in culture. However, cells from different regions varied in their expression in culture of retinoid-inducible (K19 and K13) and simple epithelial (K7, K8 and K18) keratins. By these criteria, all oral cells could be classified as belonging to one of three intrinsically distinct subtypes: "keratinizing" (gingiva, hard palate), "typical nonkeratinizing" (inner cheek, floor of mouth, ventral tongue) and "special non-keratinizing" (soft palate), all of which differed from the epidermal keratinocyte subtype. Cells from fetal floor of mouth expressed a pattern of keratins in culture markedly different from that of adult floor of mouth cells but identical to that of the adult "special nonkeratinizing" subtype and similar to that of several oral squamous cell carcinoma lines. When cultures of oral keratinocytes were grafted to the dermis of nude mice, they formed stratified epithelial structures after 10 days. In some areas of the stratified structures, the basal layer recapitulated the K19 expression pattern of the oral region from which they had originated. Thus, regional differentiation of the oral epithelium is based on an intrinsic specialization of regional keratinocyte stem cells. Additionally, oral cell transformation either frequently involves reversion to the fetal keratin program or else oral cells that express this keratin program are especially susceptible to transformation.

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