Comparative study of keratinocyte primary culture methods from paediatric skin biopsies for RNA-sequencing

Exp Dermatol. 2022 Nov;31(11):1741-1747. doi: 10.1111/exd.14652. Epub 2022 Jul 31.


Background: Keratinocyte culture is a standard method used to study gene expression, cell differentiation and proliferation. Numerous protocols exist, however their application is frequently unsuitable for small specimens, such as 4-mm punch skin biopsies.

Aims: This study compared 3 different methods of keratinocyte culture from paediatric skin biopsies to evaluate which one ensures adequate cell growth for RNA extraction and sequencing.

Materials and methods: Thirty-six skin samples were obtained from 4-mm punch skin biopsies from residual human body material from healthy children. They were cultured in vitro according to 3 different methods: enzymatic method, epidermis explant and direct explant method. Keratinocytes were characterized by immunocytochemistry using pan-cytokeratin. RNA extraction was performed with RNeasy Mini kit. Quantity and quality of the extracted RNA was assessed to meet the requirements of library preparation for sequencing.

Results: The direct explant method had largely shown its superiority over the two other methods, with a 100% success rate and an average of 15 days of culture. RNA extraction yielded a mean of 8545.85 ng of RNA per sample with an RQN of 10. Cover-clip immunochemistry staining with pan-cytokeratin had confirmed the absence of fibroblast contamination.

Discussion: Although the enzymatic method is the most frequently used for keratinocyte culture, it is not suitable small samples required in dermatology. The direct explant method guarantees a high growth rate and the extraction of high quality RNA. Variation in the amount of RNA harvested are related to inter- and intra-individual variations and to the conditions of the experiment.

Conclusion: This study allowed to conclude that the direct explant method is the most efficient and easy method to ensure cell growth when the samples are from 4-mm punch skin biopsies. This technique avoids fibroblasts contamination and obtains a sufficient quantity and quality of RNA to sequence it.

Keywords: RNA-sequencing; direct explant method; enzymatic method; keratinocyte; primary cell culture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes* / metabolism
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Skin* / pathology


  • Keratins
  • RNA