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Mol Cell Biol. 1989 Apr;9(4):1553-65.

Posttranslational regulation of keratins: degradation of mouse and human keratins 18 and 8.

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  • 1Cancer Research Center, La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation, California 92037.


Human keratin 18 (K18) and keratin 8 (K8) and their mouse homologs, Endo B and Endo A, respectively, are expressed in adult mice primarily in a variety of simple epithelial cell types in which they are normally found in equal amounts within the intermediate filament cytoskeleton. Expression of K18 alone in mouse L cells or NIH 3T3 fibroblasts from either the gene or a cDNA expression vector results in K18 protein which is degraded relatively rapidly without the formation of filaments. A K8 cDNA containing all coding sequences was isolated and expressed in mouse fibroblasts either singly or in combination with K18. Immunoprecipitation of stably transfected L cells revealed that when K8 was expressed alone, it was degraded in a fashion similar to that seen previously for K18. However, expression of K8 in fibroblasts that also expressed K18 resulted in stabilization of both K18 and K8. Immunofluorescent staining revealed typical keratin filament organization in such cells. Thus, expression of a type I and a type II keratin was found to be both necessary and sufficient for formation of keratin filaments within fibroblasts. To determine whether a similar proteolytic system responsible for the degradation of K18 in fibroblasts also exists in simple epithelial cells which normally express a type I and a type II keratin, a mutant, truncated K18 protein missing the carboxy-terminal tail domain and a conserved region of the central, alpha-helical rod domain was expressed in mouse parietal endodermal cells. This resulted in destabilization of endogenous Endo A and Endo B and inhibition of the formation of typical keratin filament structures. Therefore, cells that normally express keratins contain a proteolytic system similar to that found in experimentally manipulated fibroblasts which degrades keratin proteins not found in their normal polymerized state.

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