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Am J Pathol. 1995 May;146(5):1079-88.

Discordant expression of Bcl-x and Bcl-2 by keratinocytes in vitro and psoriatic keratinocytes in vivo.

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Department of Pathology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor 48109-0602, USA.


Apoptosis is a required event in maintaining kinetic homeostasis within continually renewing tissues such as skin. However, no systematic study of the apoptotic process in epidermal keratinocytes of the skin has been performed. In this report, we examined the expression of proteins associated with promoting (Fas) or preventing (Bcl-2, Bcl-x, CD40) apoptosis in the normal, psoriatic, and malignant keratinocyte. Immunohistochemical staining and flow cytometry analysis revealed that normal cultured keratinocytes express low levels of Fas, CD40, and Bcl-x that was enhanced by cytokines including gamma-interferon (IFN-gamma) and a phorbol ester tumor promoter, TPA. Only faint Bcl-2 staining was detected in cultured keratinocytes exposed to IFN-gamma and TPA compared with the prominent expression of Bcl-x. Biopsies of normal skin, psoriatic plaques, and basal cell carcinomas were examined to extend the in vitro observations. Immunohistochemical staining revealed that while keratinocytes in normal epithelium express low to absent levels of Fas and Bcl-x, psoriatic keratinocytes expressed significantly higher levels of Fas and Bcl-x. In contrast, malignant keratinocytes in basal cell carcinomas expressed high levels of Bcl-2, but minimal Bcl-x, and no Fas. Immunoblot analysis revealed that the long form of Bcl-x (Bcl-xI), which prevents apoptosis in lymphocytes, is expressed by cultured keratinocytes and psoriatic plaque keratinocytes. We conclude that normal cytokine-activated keratinocytes can express an apoptotic (Fas) and an anti-apoptotic protein (Bcl-x). The overexpression of Bcl-x in psoriasis, or Bcl-2 in basal cell carcinomas, may contribute to the longevity of these cells by blocking the normal apoptotic process involved in the terminal differentiation program of epidermal keratinocytes.

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