Isolation of human epidermal stem cells by adherence and the reconstruction of skin equivalents

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2004 Nov;61(21):2774-81. doi: 10.1007/s00018-004-4288-4.


The isolation of human epidermal stem cells is critical for their clinical applications. In the present study, we isolated three populations of epidermal keratinocytes according to their ability to adhere to collagen type IV: i.e., rapidly adhering (RA), slowly adhering (SA), and non-adhering (NA) cells. The aim of this study was to characterize RA cells and to investigate the possibility of using these cells for epidermis reconstruction. To identify RA cells, flow cytometric analysis was performed using anti-alpha(6) integrin and anti-CD71 antibodies. RA cells express high levels of alpha(6) integrin and low levels of CD71, which are considered as markers of an epidermal stem cell nature. Furthermore, electron microscopy showed that RA cells are small and have a high nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio, whereas SA and NA cells have well-developed cellular organelles and abundant tonofilaments. Western blot analysis showed that RA cells are slow cycling and express p63, a putative epidermal stem cell marker, whereas SA and NA cells express c-Myc, which is known to regulate stem cell fate. To compare epidermal regenerative abilities, skin equivalents (SEs) were made using RA, SA, and NA cells. The epidermis constructed from RA cells was well formed compared to those formed from SA or NA cells. In addition, only SEs with RA cells expressed alpha(6) integrin and beta(1) integrin at the basal layer. These results indicate that RA cells represent epidermal stem cells and are predominately comprised of stem cells. Therefore, the isolation of RA cells using a simple technique offers a potential route to their clinical application, because they are easily isolated and provide a high yield of epidermal stem cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Antigens, Differentiation, B-Lymphocyte / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Separation / methods*
  • Cell Size
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epidermal Cells*
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / ultrastructure


  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Differentiation, B-Lymphocyte
  • Biomarkers
  • CD71 antigen
  • Receptors, Transferrin