Expression of inflammasome proteins and inflammasome activation occurs in human, but not in murine keratinocytes

Cell Death Dis. 2018 Jan 18;9(2):24. doi: 10.1038/s41419-017-0009-4.


Inflammasomes are multimeric protein complexes that assemble upon sensing of a variety of stress factors. Their formation results in caspase-1-mediated activation and secretion of the pro-inflammatory cytokines pro-interleukin(IL)-1β and -18, which induce an inflammatory response. Inflammation is supported by a lytic form of cell death, termed pyroptosis. Innate immune cells, such as macrophages or dendritic cells, express and activate inflammasomes. However, it has also been demonstrated that human primary keratinocytes activate different types of inflammasomes in vitro, for example, upon UVB irradiation or viral infection. Keratinocytes are the main cell type of the epidermis, the outermost layer of the body, and form a protective barrier consisting of a stratified multi-layered epithelium. In human, gain-of-function mutations of the NLRP1 gene cause syndromes mediated by inflammasome activation in keratinocytes that are characterised by skin inflammation and skin cancer susceptibility. Here we demonstrate that murine keratinocytes do not activate inflammasomes in response to stimuli, which induce IL-1β and -18 secretion by human keratinocytes. Whereas murine keratinocytes produced caspase-1 and proIL-18, expression of the inflammasome proteins Nlrp1, Nlrp3, Aim2, Asc, and proIL-1β was, compared to human keratinocytes or murine dendritic cells, very low or even undetectable. Priming of murine keratinocytes with cytokines commonly used for induction of proIL-1β and inflammasome protein expression did not rescue inflammasome activation. Nevertheless, UVB-induced inflammation and neutrophil recruitment in murine skin was dependent on IL-1β and caspase-1. However, also under these conditions, we did not detect expression of proIL-1β by keratinocytes in murine skin, but by immune cells. These results demonstrate a higher immunological competence of human compared to murine keratinocytes, which is reflected by stress-induced IL-1β secretion that is mediated by inflammasomes. Therefore, keratinocytes in human skin can exert immune functions, which are carried out by professional immune cells in murine skin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammasomes / metabolism*
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism*
  • Mice


  • Inflammasomes