H-Ras expression in immortalized keratinocytes produces an invasive epithelium in cultured skin equivalents

Melville B. Vaughan, Ruben D. Ramirez, Capri M. Andrews, Woodring E. Wright, Jerry W. Shay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: Ras proteins affect both proliferation and expression of collagen-degrading enzymes, two important processes in cancer progression. Normal skin architecture is dependent both on the coordinated proliferation and stratification of keratinocytes, as well as the maintenance of a collagen-rich basement membrane. In the present studies we sought to determine whether expression of H-ras in skin keratinocytes would affect these parameters during the establishment and maintenance of an in vitro skin equivalent. Methodology/Principal Findings: Previously described cdk4 and hTERT immortalized foreskin keratinocytes were engineered to express ectopically introduced H-ras. Skin equivalents, composed of normal fibroblast-contracted collagen gels overlaid with keratinocytes (immortal or immortal expressing H-ras), were prepared and incubated for 3 weeks. Harvested tissues were processed and sectioned for histology and antibody staining. Antigens specific to differentiation (involucrin, keratin-14, p63), basement-membrane formation (collagen IV, laminin-5), and epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT; e-cadherin, vimentin) were studied. Results showed that H-ras keratinocytes produced an invasive, disorganized epithelium most apparent in the lower strata while immortalized keratinocytes fully stratified without invasive properties. The superficial strata retained morphologically normal characteristics. Vimentin and p63 co-localization increased with H-ras overexpression, similar to basal wound-healing keratinocytes. In contrast, the cdk4 and hTERT immortalized keratinocytes differentiated similarly to normal unimmortalized keratinocytes. Conclusions/Significance: The use of isogenic derivatives of stable immortalized keratinocytes with specified genetic alterations may be helpful in developing more robust in vitro models of cancer progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere7908
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 19 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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