The molecular basis for inherited bullous diseases

J Mol Med (Berl). 1996 Feb;74(2):59-70. doi: 10.1007/BF00196781.


In the past 5 years enormous progress have been made in our understanding of the molecular basis for a number of inherited skin diseases characterized by easy blistering of the skin and the mucous membranes after minor physical trauma. This increased fragility of the skin or its appendages is due to molecular defects in genes coding for different intra- and extracellular structural proteins which are responsible for mechanical strength at their sites of expression. These diseases encompass the group of epidermolysis bullosa and disorders of cornification such as bullous forms of ichthyosis, palmoplantar keratoderma, and pachyonychia congenita. On the basis of clinical, morphological, and ultrastructural observations the epidermolysis bullosa group has been divided into three major categories. In epidermolysis bullosa simplex blister formation appears within the basal cell layer of the epidermis, and many mutations have been found in the genes of keratin 5 and 14 which are both expressed in basal keratinocytes. Epidermolytic hyperkeratosis leads to an epidermal separation in the suprabasal cell layers. In these patients numerous point mutations have now been described in the suprabasally expressed genes of keratin 1 and 10. In ichthyosis bullosa of Siemens blisters occur in the more upper suprabasal epidermis coincidental with the expression of keratin 2e, and mutations have been detected in the corresponding gene. In epidermolytic palmoplantar hyperkeratosis the suprabasal epidermal splitting is restricted to palms and soles of the patient. In keratin 9, which reveals such an exclusive expression pattern, molecular defects have indeed been recognized. Most recently in two different clinical subtypes of pachyonychia congenita, which is characterized by defective nails and focal palmoplantar hyperkeratosis, point mutations have been found in the genes coding for keratins 6, 16, and 17. In junctional epidermolysis bullosa the separation takes place within the dermal-epidermal basement membrane at the level of the lamina lucida, and mutations have been found in three genes coding for different laminin chains, in the beta4 gene of alpha6beta4 integrin, and in the gene of collagen XVII. In dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa the tissue separation occurs beneath the basement membrane within the papillary dermis at the level of the anchoring fibrils, and several mutations have been identified in the collagen VII gene. The rapid unraveling of molecular defects in these disabling or even lethal inherited skin diseases makes possible a more precise and earlier prenatal diagnosis, creates new options for suitable therapeutic regimens, and even offers the hope of curing these diseases by means of somatic cell gene therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa / classification
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa / etiology*
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa / genetics
  • Humans
  • Integrin beta4
  • Keratins / genetics
  • Laminin / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Skin / pathology


  • Antigens, CD
  • Integrin beta4
  • Laminin
  • Keratins