Annotation of sheep keratin intermediate filament genes and their patterns of expression


Zhidong Yu, Growth and Development, AgResearch Ruakura, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton 3214, New Zealand, Tel.: +64-7-8385604, Fax: +64-7-8385536, e-mail:


Abstract:  Keratin IF (KRT) and keratin-associated protein genes encode the majority of wool and hair proteins. We have identified cDNA sequences representing nine novel sheep KRT genes, increasing the known active genes from eight to 17, a number comparable to that in the human. However, the absence of KRT37 in the type I family and the discovery of type II KRT87 in sheep exemplify species-specific compositional differences in hair KRT genes. Phylogenetic analysis of hair KRT genes within type I and type II families in the sheep, cattle and human genomes revealed a high degree of consistency in their sequence conservation and grouping. However, there were differences in the fibre compartmentalisation and keratinisation zones for the expression of six ovine KRT genes compared with their human orthologs. Transcripts of three genes (KRT40, KRT82 and KRT84) were only present in the fibre cuticle. KRT32, KRT35 and KRT85 were expressed in both the cuticle and the fibre cortex. The remaining 11 genes (KRT31, KRT33A, KRT33B, KRT34, KRT36, KRT38-39, KRT81, KRT83 and KRT86-87) were expressed only in the cortex. Species-specific differences in the expressed keratin gene sets, their relative expression levels and compartmentalisation are discussed in the context of their underlying roles in wool and hair developmental programmes and the distinctive characteristics of the fibres produced.