Keratins are the major structural proteins of the epidermis. Analyzing keratin gene sequences, appreciating the switch in keratin gene expression that takes place as epidermal cells commit to terminally differentiate, and elucidating how keratins assemble into 10 nm filaments, have provided the foundation that has led to the discoveries of the genetic bases of two major classes of human skin diseases, epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS) and epidermolytic hyperkeratosis (EH). These diseases involve point mutations in either the basal epidermal keratin pair, K5 and K14 (EBS), or the suprabasal pair, K1 and K10 (EH). In severe cases of EBS and EH, mutations are found in the highly conserved ends of the alpha-helical rod domain, regions that, by random mutagenesis, had already been found to be important for 10 nm filament assembly. In order to identify regions of the keratin polypeptides that might be more subtly involved in 10 nm filament assembly and to explore the diversity in mutations within milder cases of these diseases, we have focused on Weber-Cockayne EBS, where mild blistering occurs primarily on the hands and feet in response to mechanical stress. In this report, we show that affected members of two different W-C EBS families have point mutations within 1 residue of each other in the non-helical linker segment of the K5 polypeptide. Genetic linkage analyses, the absence of this mutation in > 150 wild-type alleles and filament assembly studies suggest that these mutations are responsible for the W-C EBS phenotype. These findings provide the best evidence to date that the non-helical linker region in the middle of the keratin polypeptides plays a subtle but significant role in intermediate filament structure and/or intermediate filament cytoskeletal architecture.
- © 1994 by Company of Biologists