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Introducing a Null Mutation in the Mouse K6α and K6β Genes Reveals Their Essential Structural Role in the Oral Mucosa

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      Mammalian genomes feature multiple genes encoding highly related keratin 6 (K6) isoforms. These type II keratins show a complex regulation with constitutive and inducible components in several stratified epithelia, including the oral mucosa and skin. Two functional genes, K6α and K6β, exist in a head-to-tail tandem array in mouse genomes. We inactivated these two genes simultaneously via targeting and homologous recombination. K6 null mice are viable and initially indistinguishable from their littermates. Starting at two to three days after birth, they show a growth delay associated with reduced milk intake and the presence of white plaques in the posterior region of dorsal tongue and upper palate. These regions are subjected to greater mechanical stress during suckling. Morphological analyses implicate the filiform papillae as being particularly sensitive to trauma in K6α/K6β null mice, and establish the complete absence of keratin filaments in their anterior compartment. All null mice die about a week after birth. These studies demonstrate an essential structural role for K6 isoforms in the oral mucosa, and implicate filiform papillae as being the major stress bearing structures in dorsal tongue epithelium.

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        A structural scaffolding of intermediate filaments in health and disease.

        The cytoplasm of animal cells is structured by a scaffolding composed of actin microfilaments, microtubules, and intermediate filaments. Intermediate filaments, so named because their 10-nanometer diameter is intermediate between that of microfilaments (6 nanometers) and microtubules (23 nanometers), assemble into an anastomosed network within the cytoplasm. In combination with a recently identified class of cross-linking proteins that mediate interactions between intermediate filaments and the other cytoskeletal networks, evidence is reviewed here that intermediate filaments provide a flexible intracellular scaffolding whose function is to structure cytoplasm and to resist stresses externally applied to the cell. Mutations that weaken this structural framework increase the risk of cell rupture and cause a variety of human disorders.
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          Mice lacking vimentin develop and reproduce without an obvious phenotype.

          To address the biological role of vimentin in the context of the living organism, we have introduced a null mutation of the vimentin gene into the germ line of mice. Surprisingly, animals homozygous for this mutation developed and reproduced without an obvious phenotype. Immunoblotting, immunofluorescence, and immunogold labeling analysis confirmed the absence of vimentin and of the corresponding filament network. Furthermore, no compensatory expression of another intermediate filament could be demonstrated. While these results leave open the question of the possible role of vimentin in unusual situations or pathological conditions, they show that a conspicuous developmental and cell-specific structure that is an integral part of the cytoskeleton can be eliminated without apparent effect on mouse reproduction and development.

            Author and article information

            [a ]Department of Biological Chemistry and Department of Dermatology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205
            [b ]Unité de Biologie du Développement, Institut Pasteur, 75724 Paris CEDEX 15, France
            [c ]Department of Dermatology, Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-8507, Japan
            J Cell Biol
            The Journal of Cell Biology
            The Rockefeller University Press
            21 August 2000
            : 150
            : 4
            : 921-928
            © 2000 The Rockefeller University Press

            Cell biology

            pachyonychia congenita, keratin, transgenic mouse, skin, bullous diseases


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