Canonical notch signaling functions as a commitment switch in the epidermal lineage

Genes Dev. 2006 Nov 1;20(21):3022-35. doi: 10.1101/gad.1477606.


Mammalian epidermis consists of a basal layer of proliferative progenitors that gives rise to multiple differentiating layers to provide a waterproof envelope covering the skin surface. To accomplish this, progenitor cells must detach from the basal layer, move upward, and execute a terminal differentiation program consisting of three distinct stages: spinous, granular layer, and stratum corneum. Notch signaling has been implicated in late stages of differentiation, but the commitment switch remains unknown. Here we show with loss and gain-of-function studies that active Notch intracellular domain (NICD) and its obligate canonical signaling partner RBP-J act at the basal/suprabasal juncture to induce spinous and down-regulate basal fate. Spinous layers are absent in RBP-J conditional null epidermis and expanded when Notch1 signaling is elevated transgenically in epidermis. We show that RBP-J is essential for mediating both spinous gene activation and basal gene repression. In contrast, the NICD/RBP-J target gene Hes1 is expressed in spinous layers and mediates spinous gene induction but not basal gene repression. These data uncover an early role for RBP-J and Notch in commitment of epidermal cells to terminally differentiate and reveal that spinous gene induction is mediated by a Hes1-dependent mechanism, while basal gene repression occurs independently of Hes1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage / genetics*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Epidermis / growth & development*
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptor, Notch1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Notch1 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / growth & development
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Transcription Factor HES-1
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Hes1 protein, mouse
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Rbpsuhl protein, mouse
  • Receptor, Notch1
  • Transcription Factor HES-1