Keratins are novel markers of renal epithelial cell injury

Kidney Int. 2016 Apr;89(4):792-808. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2015.10.015. Epub 2016 Feb 6.


Keratins, the intermediate filaments of the epithelial cell cytoskeleton, are up-regulated and post-translationally modified in stress situations. Renal tubular epithelial cell stress is a common finding in progressive kidney diseases, but little is known about keratin expression and phosphorylation. Here, we comprehensively describe keratin expression in healthy and diseased kidneys. In healthy mice, the major renal keratins, K7, K8, K18, and K19, were expressed in the collecting ducts and K8, K18 in the glomerular parietal epithelial cells. Tubular expression of all 4 keratins increased by 20- to 40-fold in 5 different models of renal tubular injury as assessed by immunohistochemistry, Western blot, and quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). The up-regulation became significant early after disease induction, increased with disease progression, was found de novo in distal tubules and was accompanied by altered subcellular localization. Phosphorylation of K8 and K18 increased under stress. In humans, injured tubules also exhibited increased keratin expression. Urinary K18 was only detected in mice and patients with tubular cell injury. Keratins labeled glomerular parietal epithelial cells forming crescents in patients and animals. Thus, all 4 major renal keratins are significantly, early, and progressively up-regulated upon tubular injury regardless of the underlying disease and may be novel sensitive markers of renal tubular cell stress.

Keywords: chronic kidney disease; renal pathology; tubular cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Keratin-18 / urine
  • Keratins / metabolism*
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney Diseases / metabolism*
  • Kidney Diseases / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phosphorylation
  • Ureteral Obstruction / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Keratin-18
  • Keratins