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Differentiation. 1988;37(2):137-57.

Patterns of expression of trichocytic and epithelial cytokeratins in mammalian tissues. I. Human and bovine hair follicles.

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  • 1Division of Membrane Biology and Biochemistry, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg.


The cytokeratin family of intermediate filament (IF) proteins can be grouped into the epithelial polypeptides ("soft alpha-keratins"), of which at least 19 exist in the various human epithelia, and the hair-type cytokeratins ("hard alpha-keratins"), which are typical of trichocytes, i.e., the living hair-forming cells. We have recently shown [34] that the hair follicles from diverse mammalian species contain a set of eight major cytokeratin polypeptides, four each of the acidic (type I) and the basic (type II) subfamily, which are different from all known epithelial cytokeratins. In addition, we have identified two new minor trichocytic cytokeratin polypeptides, designated Hax (type I) and Hbx (type II). Antibodies against trichocytic cytokeratins that do not crossreact with any of the epithelial cytokeratins have enabled us to study the expression of both kinds of cytokeratin in the various cell types of human and bovine hair follicles. Using immunofluorescence microscopy, we have observed intense reactions of trichocytic cytokeratins only in cells contributing to the forming hairs, i.e., hair shaft, medulla and cuticle, whereas immunostaining of the peribulbar matrix cells was weaker, if at all detectable. In contrast, epithelial cytokeratins were localized in both the inner and outer root sheath epithelia but, surprisingly, also in certain portions of the trichocyte column, notably cells of the cuticle, certain medullary cells, and trichocytes of the basalmost peripapillary cell layers. Cells coexpressing trichocytic and epithelial cytokeratins have been identified by double-label immunofluorescence microscopy. Epithelial cytokeratins of the inner and outer root sheath epithelia include, most remarkably, "simple-epithelium-type" cytokeratins 8, 18, and 19; these occur in certain peribulbar regions, in distinct patterns, but with variable frequencies. The occurrence of simple epithelial cytokeratins in hair follicles has also been confirmed by high-sensitivity immunoblotting of follicular polypeptides separated by gel electrophoresis. Vimentin-positive cells were abundantly interspersed (in some follicles, but not in all) between the trichocytes of the peripapillary cone, most of them probably being melanocytes. The cell-type complexity of the hair follicle and the different patterns of cytoskeletal protein expression in the various hair follicle cells are discussed in relation to the development and growth of this organ.

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