Mutation analysis and molecular genetics of epidermolysis bullosa

Matrix Biol. 1999 Feb;18(1):29-42. doi: 10.1016/s0945-053x(98)00005-5.


Cutaneous basement membrane zone (BMZ) consists of a number of attachment structures that are critical for stable association of the epidermis to the underlying dermis. These include hemidesmosomes, anchoring filaments and anchoring fibrils which form an interconnecting network extending from the intracellular milieu of basal keratinocytes across the dermal-epidermal basement membrane to the underlying dermis. Aberrations in this network structure, e.g. due to genetic lesions in the corresponding genes, can result in fragility of the skin at the level of the cutaneous BMZ. The prototype of such diseases is epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a heterogeneous group of genodermatoses characterized by fragility and blistering of the skin, often associated with extracutaneous manifestations, and inherited either in an autosomal dominant or autosomal recessive manner. Based on constellations of the phenotypic manifestations, severity of the disease, and the level of tissue separation within the cutaneous BMZ, EB has been divided into clinically distinct subcategories, including the simplex, hemidesmosomal, junctional and dystrophic variants. Elucidation of BMZ gene/protein systems and development of mutation detection strategies have allowed identification of mutations in 10 different BMZ genes which can explain the clinical heterogeneity of EB. These include mutations in the type VII collagen gene (COL7A1) in the dystrophic (severely scarring) forms of EB; mutations in the laminin 5 genes (LAMA3, LAMB3 and LAMC2) in a lethal (Herlitz) variant of junctional EB; aberrations in the type XVII collagen gene (COL17A1) in non-lethal forms of junctional EB; mutations in the alpha6 and beta4 integrin genes in a distinct hemidesmosomal variant of EB with congenital pyloric atresia; and mutations in the plectin gene (PLEC1) in a form of EB associated with late-onset muscular dystrophy. Identification of mutations in these gene/protein systems attests to their critical importance in the overall stability of the cutaneous BMZ. Furthermore, elucidation of mutations in different variants of EB has direct clinical applications in terms of refined classification, improved genetic counseling, and development of DNA-based prenatal testing in families with EB.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Basement Membrane
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / genetics
  • Collagen / genetics
  • Desmosomes
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa / genetics*
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa / pathology
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa Dystrophica / genetics
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa Dystrophica / pathology
  • Genetic Heterogeneity
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Laminin / genetics
  • Mutation*
  • Research


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Laminin
  • kalinin
  • Collagen