• reptiles;
  • scales;
  • alpha-keratins;
  • beta-proteins;
  • ultrastructure;
  • immunocytochemistry


The isolation of genes for alpha-keratins and keratin-associated beta-proteins (formerly beta-keratins) has allowed the production of epitope-specific antibodies for localizing these proteins during the process of cornification epidermis of reptilian sauropsids. The antibodies are directed toward proteins in the alpha-keratin range (40–70 kDa) or beta-protein range (10–30 kDa) of most reptilian sauropsids. The ultrastructural immunogold study shows the localization of acidic alpha-proteins in suprabasal and precorneous epidermal layers in lizard, snake, tuatara, crocodile, and turtle while keratin-associated beta-proteins are localized in precorneous and corneous layers. This late activation of the synthesis of keratin-associated beta-proteins is typical for keratin-associated and corneous proteins in mammalian epidermis (involucrin, filaggrin, loricrin) or hair (tyrosine-rich or sulfur-rich proteins). In turtles and crocodilians epidermis, keratin-associated beta-proteins are synthesized in upper spinosus and precorneous layers and accumulate in the corneous layer. The complex stratification of lepidosaurian epidermis derives from the deposition of specific glycine-rich versus cysteine-glycine-rich keratin-associated beta-proteins in cells sequentially produced from the basal layer and not from the alternation of beta- with alpha-keratins. The process gives rise to Oberhäutchen, beta-, mesos-, and alpha-layers during the shedding cycle of lizards and snakes. Differently from fish, amphibian, and mammalian keratin-associated proteins (KAPs) of the epidermis, the keratin-associated beta-proteins of sauropsids are capable to form filaments of 3–4 nm which give rise to an X-ray beta-pattern as a consequence of the presence of a beta-pleated central region of high homology, which seems to be absent in KAPs of the other vertebrates. J. Morphol., 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.