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J Cell Physiol. 1991 Jan;146(1):94-100.

Role of intracellular-free calcium in the cornified envelope formation of keratinocytes: differences in the mode of action of extracellular calcium and 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco 94143.


Extracellular calcium (Cao) and the steroid hormone 1,25(OH)2D, induce the differentiation of human epidermal cells in culture. Recent studies suggest that increases in intracellular free calcium (Cai) levels may be an initial signal that triggers keratinocyte differentiation. In the present study, we evaluated cornified envelope formation, the terminal event during keratinocyte differentiation, and correlated it with changes in the Cai levels during differentiation of keratinocytes in culture induced by Cao or 1,25(OH)2D. Keratinocytes were grown in different Cao concentrations (0.1 or 1.2 mM) or in the presence of 1,25(OH)2D (10(-11) to 10(-7) M), and the Cai levels were measured using the fluorescent probe Indo-1. Our results suggest that the induction of cornified envelope formation is associated with an increase in Cai level during calcium-induced differentiation. Cao and the calcium ionophore ionomycin acutely increased Cai and cornified envelope formation. In contrast, the effect of 1,25(OH)2D on increasing Cai levels and stimulating cornified envelope formation was long-term, requiring days of treatment with 1,25(OH)2D. Our data are consistent with other recent studies and support the hypothesis that Cao regulates keratinocyte differentiation primarily by acutely increasing their Cai levels. The role of calcium in the mechanism of action of 1,25(OH)2D on keratinocyte differentiation is less clear. The increase in Cai of keratinocytes during 1,25(OH)2D induced differentiation may be essential for or subsequent to its prodifferentiation effects.

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