A novel control of human keratin expression: cannabinoid receptor 1-mediated signaling down-regulates the expression of keratins K6 and K16 in human keratinocytes in vitro and in situ

PeerJ. 2013 Feb 19;1:e40. doi: 10.7717/peerj.40. Print 2013.


Cannabinoid receptors (CB) are expressed throughout human skin epithelium. CB1 activation inhibits human hair growth and decreases proliferation of epidermal keratinocytes. Since psoriasis is a chronic hyperproliferative, inflammatory skin disease, it is conceivable that the therapeutic modulation of CB signaling, which can inhibit both proliferation and inflammation, could win a place in future psoriasis management. Given that psoriasis is characterized by up-regulation of keratins K6 and K16, we have investigated whether CB1 stimulation modulates their expression in human epidermis. Treatment of organ-cultured human skin with the CB1-specific agonist, arachidonoyl-chloro-ethanolamide (ACEA), decreased K6 and K16 staining intensity in situ. At the gene and protein levels, ACEA also decreased K6 expression of cultured HaCaT keratinocytes, which show some similarities to psoriatic keratinocytes. These effects were partly antagonized by the CB1-specific antagonist, AM251. While CB1-mediated signaling also significantly inhibited human epidermal keratinocyte proliferation in situ, as shown by K6/Ki-67-double immunofluorescence, the inhibitory effect of ACEA on K6 expression in situ was independent of its anti-proliferative effect. Given recent appreciation of the role of K6 as a functionally important protein that regulates epithelial wound healing in mice, it is conceivable that the novel CB1-mediated regulation of keratin 6/16 revealed here also is relevant to wound healing. Taken together, our results suggest that cannabinoids and their receptors constitute a novel, clinically relevant control element of human K6 and K16 expression.

Keywords: Cannabinoid; Keratin; Psoriasis; Wound healing.

Grant support

This study was supported in part by the Daniel Turnberg United Kingdom/Middle East Travel Fellowship Scheme, administered by the Academy of Medical Sciences to YR; a faculty grant from Osaka City University to KS; a “Lendület” grant of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to TB; and a faculty grant from the University of Luebeck to RP. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.