The cytoskeleton in keratinocytes is a complex of highly homologous structural proteins derived from two families of type I and type II polypeptides. Keratin K2e is a type II polypeptide that is expressed in epidermis late in differentiation. Here we report the influence of keratinocyte activation, proliferation, and keratinization on K2e expression in samples of cutaneous and oral lesions. The normal expression of K2e in the upper spinous and granular layers of interfollicular epidermis is increased in keloid scars but showed distinct down-regulation in psoriasis and hypertrophic scars where keratinocytes are known to undergo activation. Unlike normal and psoriatic skin, K2e expression in hypertrophic and keloid scars began in the deepest suprabasal layer. In cutaneous basal and squamous cell carcinomas, K2e was absent in most tumor islands but the overlying epidermis showed strong expression. No significant K2e expression in nonkeratinized or keratinized oral epithelia, including buccal mucosa, lateral border of tongue and gingiva was detected. In oral lichen planus K2e expression was undetectable, but in benign keratoses of lingual mucosa induction of K2e along with K1 and K10 was observed. In mild-to-moderate oral dysplasia with orthokeratinization, K2e was highly expressed compared with parakeratinized areas but in severe dysplasia as well as in oral squamous cell carcinoma, K2e expression was undetectable. Taken together, the data suggest that K2e expression in skin is sensitive to keratinocyte activation but its up-regulation in oral lesions is a reflection of the degree of orthokeratinization.