Background Keratins are a multigene family of intermediate filament proteins that are differentially expressed in specific epithelial tissues. To date, no type II keratins specific for the inner root sheath of the human hair follicle have been identified.
Objectives To characterize a novel type II keratin in mice and humans.
Methods Gene sequences were aligned and compared by BLAST analysis. Genomic DNA and mRNA sequences were amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and confirmed by direct sequencing. Gene expression was analysed by reverse transcription (RT)–PCR in mouse and human tissues. A rabbit polyclonal antiserum was raised against a C-terminal peptide derived from the mouse K6irs protein. Protein expression in murine tissues was examined by immunoblotting and immunofluorescence.
Results Analysis of human expressed sequence tag (EST) data generated by the Human Genome Project revealed a fragment of a novel cytokeratin mRNA with characteristic amino acid substitutions in the 2B domain. No further human ESTs were found in the database; however, the complete human gene was identified in the draft genome sequence and several mouse ESTs were identified, allowing assembly of the murine mRNA. Both species' mRNA sequences and the human gene were confirmed experimentally by PCR and direct sequencing. The human gene spans more than 16 kb of genomic DNA and is located in the type II keratin cluster on chromosome 12q. A comprehensive immunohistochemical survey of expression in the adult mouse by immunofluorescence revealed that this novel keratin is expressed only in the inner root sheath of the hair follicle. Immunoblotting of murine epidermal keratin extracts revealed that this protein is specific to the anagen phase of the hair cycle, as one would expect of an inner root sheath marker. In humans, expression of this keratin was confirmed by RT–PCR using mRNA derived from plucked anagen hairs and epidermal biopsy material. By this means, strong expression was detected in human hair follicles from scalp and eyebrow. Expression was also readily detected in human palmoplantar epidermis; however, no expression was detected in face skin despite the presence of fine hairs histologically.
Conclusions This new keratin, designated K6irs, is a valuable histological marker for the inner root sheath of hair follicles in mice and humans. In addition, this keratin represents a new candidate gene for inherited structural hair defects such as loose anagen syndrome.