Pathophysiology of pachyonychia congenita-associated palmoplantar keratoderma: new insights into skin epithelial homeostasis and avenues for treatment

Br J Dermatol. 2020 Mar;182(3):564-573. doi: 10.1111/bjd.18033. Epub 2019 Jul 24.


Background: Pachyonychia congenita (PC), a rare genodermatosis, primarily affects ectoderm-derived epithelial appendages and typically includes oral leukokeratosis, nail dystrophy and very painful palmoplantar keratoderma (PPK). PC dramatically impacts quality of life although it does not affect lifespan. PC can arise from mutations in any of the wound-repair-associated keratin genes KRT6A, KRT6B, KRT6C, KRT16 or KRT17. There is no cure for this condition, and current treatment options for PC symptoms are limited and palliative in nature.

Objectives: This review focuses on recent progress made towards understanding the pathophysiology of PPK lesions, the most prevalent and debilitating of all PC symptoms.

Methods: We reviewed the relevant literature with a particular focus on the Krt16 null mouse, which spontaneously develops footpad lesions that mimic several aspects of PC-associated PPK.

Results: There are three main stages of progression of PPK-like lesions in Krt16 null mice. Ahead of lesion onset, keratinocytes in the palmoplantar (footpad) skin exhibit specific defects in terminal differentiation, including loss of Krt9 expression. At the time of PPK onset, there is elevated oxidative stress and hypoactive Keap1-Nrf2 signalling. During active PPK, there is a profound defect in the ability of the epidermis to maintain or return to normal homeostasis.

Conclusions: The progress made suggests new avenues to explore for the treatment of PC-based PPK and deepens our understanding of the mechanisms controlling skin tissue homeostasis. What's already known about this topic? Pachyonychia congenita (PC) is a rare genodermatosis caused by mutations in KRT6A, KRT6B, KRT6C, KRT16 and KRT17, which are normally expressed in skin appendages and induced following injury. Individuals with PC present with multiple clinical symptoms that usually include thickened and dystrophic nails, palmoplantar keratoderma (PPK), glandular cysts and oral leukokeratosis. The study of PC pathophysiology is made challenging because of its low incidence and high complexity. There is no cure or effective treatment for PC. What does this study add? This text reviews recent progress made when studying the pathophysiology of PPK associated with PC. This recent progress points to new possibilities for devising effective therapeutics that may complement current palliative strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Homeostasis
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • Keratin-16 / genetics
  • Keratin-16 / metabolism
  • Keratoderma, Palmoplantar* / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mutation / genetics
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Pachyonychia Congenita* / genetics
  • Quality of Life


  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • Keratin-16
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2