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ABSTRACT

The corneous layer of the epidermis in hard-shelled turtles largely derives from the accumulation of beta-proteins as indicated by microscopic, in situ hybridization, and immunocytochemical and Western blotting analysis. The expression of mRNAs of one of the most common type of beta-proteins shows higher expression in upper spinosus and pre-corneous keratinocytes of growing scutes. Two beta-proteins of 14–16 kDa, indicated as Tu2 and Tu17 and representing two subtypes of beta-proteins co-accumulate in the thick corneous layer of the epidermis in hard-shelled turtle. The two beta-proteins apparently mix in differentiating and mature corneocytes although Tu2 appears more prevalent than Tu17. The specific role of the different subtypes in the formation of the hard corneous material of the carapace and plastron is not clear. It is hypothesized that the relative amount of beta-proteins belonging to the two subclasses in relation to the alpha-keratin meshwork present in keratinocytes contributes to the formation of a variably resistant and inflexible corneous layer. Tu17 may have a more globular structure than Tu2 and is likely present in denser areas of the corneous layer containing also alpha-keratin. The increase of cysteine–glycine-rich beta-proteins in the matrix located among alpha-keratin filaments may allow the formation of a hard corneous material, probably through increase of cross-bridge formation and hydrophobicity. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 322B: 54–63, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.