Epithelial keratinization involves complex cellular modifications that provide protection against pathogens and chemical and mechanical injuries. In the oral cavity, keratinized mucosa is also crucial to maintain healthy periodontal or peri-implant tissues. In this study, we investigated the roles of type XVIII collagen, a collagen-glycosaminoglycan featuring an extracellular matrix component present in the basement membrane, in oral mucosal keratinization. Histological analysis of keratinized and non-keratinized oral mucosa showed that type XVIII collagen was highly expressed in keratinized mucosa. Additionally, a 3D culture system using human squamous carcinoma cells (TR146) was used to evaluate and correlate the changes in the expression of type XVIII collagen gene, COL18A1, and epithelial keratinization-related markers, e.g., keratin 1 (KRT1) and 10 (KRT10). The results showed that the increase in COL18A1 expression followed the increase in KRT1 and KRT10 mRNA levels. Additionally, loss-of-function analyses using silencing RNA targeting COL18A1 mRNA and a Col18-knockout (KO) mouse revealed that the absence of type XVIII collagen induces a dramatic decrease in KRT10 expression as well as in the number and size of keratohyalin granules. Together, the results of this study demonstrate the importance of type XVIII collagen in oral mucosal keratinization.
Keywords: basement membrane; oral epithelial keratinization; type XVIII collagen.