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BMC Bioinformatics. 2008 Nov 6;9:473. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-9-473.

Nuclear staining and relative distance for quantifying epidermal differentiation in biomarker expression profiling.

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  • 1Hamamatsu Tissue Imaging and Analysis TIGA Center, BIOQUANT, University Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.



The epidermal physiology results from a complex regulated homeostasis of keratinocyte proliferation, differentiation and death and is tightly regulated by a specific protein expression during cellular maturation. Cellular in silico models are considered a promising and inevitable tool for the understanding of this complex system. Hence, we need to incorporate the information of the differentiation dependent protein expression in cell based systems biological models of tissue homeostasis. Such methods require measuring tissue differentiation quantitatively while correlating it with biomarker expression intensities.


Differentiation of a keratinocyte is characterized by its continuously changing morphology concomitant with its movement from the basal layer to the surface, leading to a decreased average nuclei density throughout the tissue. Based thereon, we designed and evaluated three different mathematical measures (nuclei based, distance based, and joint approach) for quantifying differentiation in epidermal keratinocytes. We integrated them with an immunofluorescent staining and image analysis method for tissue sections, automatically quantifying epidermal differentiation and measuring the corresponding expression of biomarkers. When studying five well-known differentiation related biomarkers in an epidermal neck sample only the resulting biomarker profiles incorporating the relative distance information of cells to the tissue borders (distance based and joint approach) provided a high-resolution view on the whole process of keratinocyte differentiation. By contrast, the inverse nuclei density approach led to an increased resolution at early but heavily decreased resolution at late differentiation. This effect results from the heavy non-linear decay of DAPI intensity per area, probably caused by cytoplasmic growth and chromatin decondensation. In the joint approach this effect could be compensated again by incorporating distance information.


We suppose that key mechanisms regulating tissue homeostasis probably depend more on distance information rather than on nuclei reorganization. Concluding, the distance approach appears well suited for comprehensively observing keratinocyte differentiation.

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