Introduction: There is a practical need for the identification of robust cell-surface markers that can be used to enrich for living keratinocyte progenitor cells. Breast cancer resistance protein (ABCG2), a member of the ATP binding cassette (ABC) transporter family, is known to be a marker for stem/progenitor cells in many tissues and organs.
Methods: We investigated the expression of ABCG2 protein in normal human epidermis to evaluate its potential as a cell surface marker for identifying and enriching for clonogenic epidermal keratinocytes outside the pilosebaceous tract.
Results: Immunofluorescence and immunoblotting studies of human skin showed that ABCG2 is expressed in a subset of basal layer cells in the epidermis. Flow cytometry analysis showed approximately 2-3% of keratinocytes in non-hair-bearing epidermis expressing ABCG2; this population also expresses p63, β1 and α6 integrins and keratin 14, but not CD34, CD71, C-kit or involucrin. The ABCG2-positive keratinocytes showed significantly higher colony forming efficiency when co-cultured with mouse 3T3 feeder cells, and more extensive long-term proliferation capacity in vitro, than did ABCG2-negative keratinocytes. Upon clonal analysis, most of the freshly isolated ABCG2-positive keratinocytes formed holoclones and were capable of generating a stratified differentiating epidermis in organotypic culture models.
Conclusions: These data indicate that in skin, expression of the ABCG2 transporter is a characteristic of interfollicular keratinocyte progentior cells and suggest that ABCG2 may be useful for enriching keratinocyte stem cells in human interfollicular epidermis.