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J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Jan;133(1):181-90. doi: 10.1038/jid.2012.256. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

Keratins mediate localization of hemidesmosomes and repress cell motility.

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Institute of Biology, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.


The keratin (K)-hemidesmosome (HD) interaction is crucial for cell-matrix adhesion and migration in several epithelia, including the epidermis. Mutations in constituent proteins cause severe blistering skin disorders by disrupting the adhesion complex. Despite extensive studies, the role of keratins in HD assembly and maintenance is only partially understood. Here we address this issue in keratinocytes in which all keratins are depleted by genome engineering. Unexpectedly, such keratinocytes maintain many characteristics of their normal counterparts. However, the absence of the entire keratin cytoskeleton leads to loss of plectin from the hemidesmosomal plaque and scattering of the HD transmembrane core along the basement membrane zone. To investigate the functional consequences, we performed migration and adhesion assays. These revealed that, in the absence of keratins, keratinocytes adhere much faster to extracellular matrix substrates and migrate approximately two times faster compared with wild-type cells. Reexpression of the single keratin pair K5 and K14 fully reversed the above phenotype. Our data uncover a role of keratins, which to our knowledge is previously unreported, in the maintenance of HDs upstream of plectin, with implications for epidermal homeostasis and pathogenesis. They support the view that the downregulation of keratins observed during epithelial-mesenchymal transition supports the migratory and invasive behavior of tumor cells.

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