The epidermis is the largest organ in the body. It is comprised primarily of keratinocytes which are arranged in layers that recapitulates their programmed life cycle. Proliferating keratinocytes are on the bottom-the stratum basale. As keratinocytes leave the stratum basale they begin to differentiate, culminating in the enucleated stratum corneum which has the major role of permeability barrier. Calcium and the active metabolite of vitamin D, 1,25(OH)(2)D(3), play important roles in this differentiation process. The epidermis has a gradient of calcium with lowest concentrations in the stratum basale, and highest concentrations in the stratum granulosum where proteins critical for barrier function are produced. Vitamin D is made in different layers of the epidermis, but 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) is made primarily in the stratum basale. Together calcium and 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) regulate the ordered differentiation process by the sequential turning on and off the genes producing the elements required for differentiation as well as activating those enzymes involved in differentiation. Animal models in which the sensing mechanism for calcium, the receptor for 1,25(OH)(2)D(3), or the enzyme producing 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) have been rendered inoperative demonstrate the importance of these mechanisms for the differentiation process, although each animal model has its own phenotype. This review will examine the mechanisms by which calcium and 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) interact to control epidermal differentiation.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.