Simple epithelial keratins K8 and K18 are components of the intracellular cytoskeleton in the cells of the single-layered sheet tissues inside the body. As members of the intermediate filament family of proteins, their function has been a matter for debate since they were first discovered. Whilst there is an indisputable case for a structural cell-reinforcing function for keratins in the mutilayered squamous epithelia of external barrier tissues, some very different stress-protective features now seem to be emerging for the simple epithelial keratins. Even the emerging evidence of pathological mutations in K8/K18 looks very different from mutations in stratified epithelial keratins. K8/K18-like keratins were probably the first to evolve and, whilst stratified epithelial (keratinocyte) keratins have diversified into a large group of keratins highly specialised for providing mechanical stability, the simple epithelial keratins have retained early features that may protect the internal epithelia from a broader range of stresses, including osmotic stress and chemical toxicity.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.