The peptide Gly-His-Lys (GHK) is a naturally occurring copper(II)-chelating motifs in human serum and cerebrospinal fluid. In industry, GHK (with or without copper) is used to make hair and skin care products. Copper-GHK plays a physiological role in the process of wound healing and tissue repair by stimulating collagen synthesis in fibroblasts. We also reported that copper-GHK promotes the survival of basal stem cells in the skin. However, the effects of copper-free GHK (GHK) have not been investigated well. In this study, the effects of GHK were studied using cultured normal human keratinocytes and skin equivalent (SE) models. In monolayer cultured keratinocytes, GHK increased the proliferation of keratinocytes. When GHK was added during the culture of SE models, the basal cells became more cuboidal than control model. In addition, there was linear and intense staining of α6 and β1 integrin along the basement membrane. The number of p63 and proliferating cell nuclear antigen positive cells was also significantly increased in GHK-treated SEs than in control SEs. Western blot and slide culture experiment showed that GHK increased the expression of integrin by keratinocytes. All these results showed that GHK increased the stemness and proliferative potential of epidermal basal cells, which is associated with increased expression of integrin. In conclusion, copper-free GHK showed similar effects with copper-GHK. Thus, it can be said that copper-free GHK can be used in industry to obtain the effects of copper-GHK in vivo. Further study is necessary to explore the relationship between copper-free GHK and copper-GHK.
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