Cells of the inner layers of the epidermis contain small keratins (46-58K), whereas the cells of the outer layers contain large keratins (63-67K) in addition to small ones. The changes in keratin composition that take place within each cell during the course of its terminal differentiation result largely from changes in synthesis. Cultured epidermal cells resemble cells of the inner layers of the epidermis in synthesizing only small keratins. The cultured cells possess translatable mRNA only for small keratins, whereas mRNA extracted from whole epidermis can be translated into both large and small keratins. As no synthesis takes place in the outermost layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum), the keratins of this layer must be synthesized earlier, but in some cases they then become smaller: this presumably occurs by post-translational processing of the molecules during the final stages of differentiation. Stratified squamous epithelia of internal organs do not form a typical stratum corneum and do not make the large keratins characteristic of epidermis. Their keratins are also different from those of cultured keratinocytes, implying that they have embarked on an alternate route of terminal keratin synthesis.