Caspase-14, a member of the caspase family of cysteine proteases, is almost exclusively expressed in the epidermis. Studies on human and mouse cells and tissues have implicated caspase-14 in terminal differentiation of epidermal keratinocytes and in the formation of the stratum corneum. Here we investigated evolutionary aspects of the role of caspase-14 by analyzing its distribution in the epidermis and hair follicles of representative species of placental mammals, marsupials, and monotremes. Immunocytochemical staining showed that caspase-14 is consistently expressed in the granular and corneous layer of the epidermis of all mammalian species investigated. Ultrastructural analysis using gold-labeled anticaspase-14 antibodies revealed that caspase-14 is associated preferentially with keratin bundles and amorphous material of keratohyalin granules, but is also present in nuclei of transitional cells of the granular layer and in corneocytes. In hair follicles, caspase-14 was diffusely present in cornifying cells of the outer root sheath, in the companion layer, and, most abundantly, in the inner root sheath of all mammalian species here analyzed. In Henle and Huxley layers of the inner root sheath, labeling was seen in nuclei and, more diffusely, among trichohyalin granules of cornifying cells. In summary, the tissue expression pattern and the intracellular localization of caspase-14 are highly conserved among diverse mammalian species, suggesting that this enzyme is involved in a molecular process that appeared early in the evolution of mammalian skin. The association of caspase-14 with keratohyalin and trichohyalin granules may indicate a specific role of caspase-14 in the maturation of these keratinocyte-specific structures. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.