Keratinocytes (stained green) in the skin of a mouse

A keratinocyte is the predominant cell type in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, constituting 90% of the cells found there.[1] Those keratinocytes found in the basal layer (stratum basale) of the skin are sometimes referred to as "basal cells" or "basal keratinocytes".[2]


  • Function 1
  • Structure 2
  • Cell differentiation 3
  • Interaction with other cells 4
  • Role in wound healing 5
  • Sunburn cells 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The primary function of keratinocytes is the formation of a barrier against environmental damage by pathogenic bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, heat, UV radiation and water loss. Once pathogens start to invade the upper layers of the epidermis, keratinocytes can react by producing proinflammatory mediators, particularly chemokines such as CXCL10 and CCL2 which attract leukocytes to the site of pathogen invasion.


A number of structural proteins (filaggrin, keratin), enzymes (proteases), lipids and antimicrobial peptides (defensins) contribute to maintain the important barrier function of the skin. Keratinization is part of the physical barrier formation (cornification), in which the keratinocytes produce more and more keratin and undergo terminal differentiation. The fully cornified keratinocytes that form the outermost layer are constantly shed off and replaced by new cells.[3]

Cell differentiation

Epidermal stem cells reside in the lower part of the epidermis (stratum basale) and are attached to the basement membrane through hemidesmosomes. Epidermal stem cells divide in a stochastic manner yielding either more stem cells or transit amplifying cells.[4] Some of the transit amplifying cells continue to proliferate then commit to

  • Tang L, Wu JJ, Ma Q, et al. (July 2010). "Human lactoferrin stimulates skin keratinocyte function and wound re-epithelialization". The British Journal of Dermatology 163 (1): 38–47.  

External links

  1. ^ McGrath JA, Eady RAJ, Pope FM. (2004). "Anatomy and Organization of Human Skin". In Burns T, Breathnach S, Cox N, Griffiths C. Rook's Textbook of Dermatology (7th ed.). Blackwell Publishing. p. 4190.  
  2. ^ James W, Berger T, Elston D (December 2005). Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology (10th ed.). Saunders. pp. 5–6.  
  3. ^ Gilbert, Scott F. (2000). "The Epidermis and the Origin of Cutaneous Structures.". Developmental Biology. Sinauer Associates.  
  4. ^ Houben E, De Paepe K, Rogiers V (2007). "A keratinocyte's course of life". Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 20 (3): 122–32.  
  5. ^ Ghazizadeh S, Taichman LB (March 2001). "Multiple classes of stem cells in cutaneous epithelium: a lineage analysis of adult mouse skin". The EMBO Journal 20 (6): 1215–22.  
  6. ^ Koster MI (July 2009). "Making an epidermis". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1170: 7–10.  
  7. ^ Halprin KM (January 1972). "Epidermal "turnover time"--a re-examination". The British Journal of Dermatology 86 (1): 14–9.  
  8. ^ Potten CS, Saffhill R, Maibach HI (September 1987). "Measurement of the transit time for cells through the epidermis and stratum corneum of the mouse and guinea-pig". Cell and Tissue Kinetics 20 (5): 461–72.  
  9. ^ Proksch E, Brandner JM, Jensen JM (December 2008). "The skin: an indispensable barrier". Experimental Dermatology 17 (12): 1063–72.  
  10. ^ Hennings H, Kruszewski FH, Yuspa SH, Tucker RW (April 1989). "Intracellular calcium alterations in response to increased external calcium in normal and neoplastic keratinocytes". Carcinogenesis 10 (4): 777–80.  
  11. ^ Pillai S, Bikle DD (January 1991). "Role of intracellular-free calcium in the cornified envelope formation of keratinocytes: differences in the mode of action of extracellular calcium and 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3". Journal of Cellular Physiology 146 (1): 94–100.  
  12. ^ Reiss, M; Lipsey, LR; Zhou, ZL (1991). "Extracellular calcium-dependent regulation of transmembrane calcium fluxes in murine keratinocytes". Journal of cellular physiology 147 (2): 281–91.  
  13. ^ Mauro, TM; Pappone, PA; Isseroff, RR (1990). "Extracellular calcium affects the membrane currents of cultured human keratinocytes". Journal of cellular physiology 143 (1): 13–20.  
  14. ^ Mauro, TM; Isseroff, RR; Lasarow, R; Pappone, PA (1993). "Ion channels are linked to differentiation in keratinocytes". The Journal of membrane biology 132 (3): 201–9.  
  15. ^ Tu, CL; Oda, Y; Bikle, DD (1999). "Effects of a calcium receptor activator on the cellular response to calcium in human keratinocytes". The Journal of investigative dermatology 113 (3): 340–5.  
  16. ^ Hennings, Henry; Michael, Delores; Cheng, Christina; Steinert, Peter; Holbrook, Karen; Yuspa, Stuart H. (1980). "Calcium regulation of growth and differentiation of mouse epidermal cells in culture". Cell 19 (1): 245–54.  
  17. ^ Su, MJ; Bikle, DD; Mancianti, ML; Pillai, S (1994). "1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 potentiates the keratinocyte response to calcium". The Journal of Biological Chemistry 269 (20): 14723–9.  
  18. ^ Fu, G. K.; Lin, D; Zhang, MY; Bikle, DD; Shackleton, CH; Miller, WL; Portale, AA (1997). "Cloning of Human 25-Hydroxyvitamin D-1 -Hydroxylase and Mutations Causing Vitamin D-Dependent Rickets Type 1". Molecular Endocrinology 11 (13): 1961–70.  
  19. ^ Kawakubo, Tomoyo; Yasukochi, Atsushi; Okamoto, Kuniaki; Okamoto, Yoshiko; Nakamura, Seiji; Yamamoto, Kenji (2011). "The role of cathepsin E in terminal differentiation of keratinocytes". Biological Chemistry 392 (6): 571–85.  
  20. ^ Jackson, B.; Brown, S. J.; Avilion, A. A.; O'Shaughnessy, R. F. L.; Sully, K.; Akinduro, O.; Murphy, M.; Cleary, M. L.; Byrne, C. (2011). "TALE homeodomain proteins regulate site-specific terminal differentiation, LCE genes and epidermal barrier". Journal of Cell Science 124 (10): 1681.  
  21. ^ a b Rheinwald, JG; Green, H (1975). "Serial cultivation of strains of human epidermal keratinocytes: The formation of keratinizing colonies from single cells". Cell 6 (3): 331–43.  
  22. ^ Truong, AB; Kretz, M; Ridky, TW; Kimmel, R; Khavari, PA (2006). "P63 regulates proliferation and differentiation of developmentally mature keratinocytes". Genes & Development 20 (22): 3185–97.  
  23. ^ Fuchs, E; Green, H (1981). "Regulation of terminal differentiation of cultured human keratinocytes by vitamin A". Cell 25 (3): 617–25.  
  24. ^ Rheinwald, JG; Green, H (1977). "Epidermal growth factor and the multiplication of cultured human epidermal keratinocytes". Nature 265 (5593): 421–4.  
  25. ^ Barrandon, Y; Green, H (1987). "Cell migration is essential for sustained growth of keratinocyte colonies: The roles of transforming growth factor-alpha and epidermal growth factor". Cell 50 (7): 1131–7.  
  26. ^ Brenner M, Hearing VJ. (May–June 2008). "The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human Skin".  
  27. ^ Ito, M; Liu, Y; Yang, Z; Nguyen, J; Liang, F; Morris, RJ; Cotsarelis, G (2005). "Stem cells in the hair follicle bulge contribute to wound repair but not to homeostasis of the epidermis". Nature Medicine 11 (12): 1351–4.  
  28. ^ Claudinot, S; Nicolas, M; Oshima, H; Rochat, A; Barrandon, Y (2005). "Long-term renewal of hair follicles from clonogenic multipotent stem cells". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102 (41): 14677–82.  
  29. ^ Ito, M; Yang, Z; Andl, T; Cui, C; Kim, N; Millar, SE; Cotsarelis, G (2007). "Wnt-dependent de novo hair follicle regeneration in adult mouse skin after wounding". Nature 447 (7142): 316–20.  
  30. ^ Myers, Simon R.; Leigh, Irene M.; Navsaria, Harshad (September 26, 2007). "Epidermal repair results from activation of follicular and epidermal progenitor keratinocytes mediated by a growth factor cascade". Wound Repair and Regeneration 15 (5): 693–701.  
  31. ^ Anderson KI, Wang YL, Small JV (September 1996). "Coordination of protrusion and translocation of the keratocyte involves rolling of the cell body". J. Cell Biol. 134 (5): 1209–18.  
  32. ^ Y Shen, Y Guo, C Du, M Wilczynska, S Hellström, T Ny, Mice Deficient in Urokinase-Type Plasminogen Activator Have Delayed Healing of Tympanic Membrane Perforations, PLOS ONE, 2012
  33. ^ Young AR (June 1987). "The sunburn cell".  
  34. ^ Sheehan JM, Young AR (June 2002). "The sunburn cell revisited: an update on mechanistic aspects".  


See also

A sunburn cell is a keratinocyte with a pyknotic nucleus and eosinophilic cytoplasm that appears after exposure to UVC or UVB radiation or UVA in the presence of psoralens. It shows premature and abnormal keratinization, and has been described as an example of apoptosis.[33][34]

Sunburn cells

Functional keratinocytes are needed for tympanic perforation healing.[32]

Keratinocytes migrate with a rolling motion during the process of wound healing.[30][31]

At the opposite, epidermal keratinocytes, can contribute to de novo hair follicle formation during the healing of large wounds.[29]

Wounds to the skin will be repaired in part by the migration of keratinocytes to fill in the gap created by the wound. The first set of keratinocytes to participate in that repair come from the bulge region of the hair follicle and will only survive transiently. Within the healed epidermis they will be replaced by keratinocytes originating from the epidermis.[27][28]

Role in wound healing

Keratinocytes contribute to protecting the body from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) by taking up melanosomes, vesicles containing the endogenous photoprotectant melanin, from epidermal melanocytes. Each melanocyte in the epidermis has several dendrites that stretch out to connect it with many keratinocytes. The melanin is then stored within keratinocytes and melanocytes in the perinuclear area as supranuclear “caps”, where it protects the DNA from UVR-induced damage.[26]

Within the epidermis keratinocytes are associated with other cell types such as melanocytes and Langerhans cells. Keratinocytes form tight junctions with the nerves of the skin and hold the Langerhans cells and intra-dermal lymphocytes in position within the epidermis. Keratinocytes also modulate the immune system: apart from the above-mentioned antimicrobial peptides and chemokines they are also potent producers of anti-inflammatory mediators such as IL-10 and TGF-β. When activated, they can stimulate cutaneous inflammation and Langerhans cell activation via TNFα and IL-1β secretion.

Interaction with other cells

Since keratinocyte differentiation inhibits keratinocyte proliferation, factors that promote keratinocyte proliferation should be considered as preventing differentiation. These factors include:

  • A calcium gradient, with the lowest concentration in the stratum basale and increasing concentrations until the outer stratum granulosum, where it reaches its maximum. Calcium concentration in the stratum corneum is very low in part because those relatively dry cells are not able to dissolve the ions.[9] Those elevations of extracellular calcium concentrations induces an increase in intracellular free calcium concentrations in keratinocytes.[10] Part of that intracellular calcium increase comes from calcium released from intracellular stores[11] and another part comes from transmembrane calcium influx,[12] through both calcium-sensitive chloride channels[13] and voltage-independent cation channels permeable to calcium.[14] Moreover, it has been suggested that an extracellular calcium-sensing receptor (CaSR) also contributes to the rise in intracellular calcium concentration.[15]
  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) regulates keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation mostly by modulating calcium concentrations and regulating the expression of genes involved in keratinocyte differentiation.[16][17] Keratinocytes are the only cells in the body with the entire vitamin D metabolic pathway from vitamin D production to catabolism and Vitamin D receptor expression.[18]
  • Cathepsin E.[19]
  • TALE homeodomain transcription factors.[20]
  • Hydrocortisone.[21]

Factors promoting keratinocyte differentiation are:

In humans, it is estimated that keratinocytes turnover from stem cells to desquamation every 40–56 days.[7] whereas in mice the estimated turnover time is 8–10 days.[8]

At each stage of differentiation, keratinocytes express specific keratins, such as keratin 1, keratin 5, keratin 10 and keratin 14, but also other markers such as involucrin, loricrin, transglutaminase, filaggrin and caspase 14.

as new ones come in. desquamation Corneocytes will eventually be shed off through [6] Corneocytes are keratinocytes that have completed their differentiation program and have lost their

During this differentiation process, keratinocytes permanently withdraw from the cell cycle, initiate expression of epidermal differentiation markers, and move suprabasally as they become part of the stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum and eventually become corneocytes in the stratum corneum.