Terminally differentiated mammalian epidermal cells are lined with a 15 nm thick layer of proteins cross-linked by isodipeptide and disulfide bonds, called the cornified cell envelope (CE). A number of proteins, including involucrin, loricrin, cystatin A, filaggrin, a cysteine-rich protein (CRP) and the ‘small proline-rich’ proteins (SPRRs) have been reported to be components of this complex, but little information has been obtained as to their relative abundances because the acute insolubility of the CEs has precluded direct methods of analysis. To address this question, we have determined the amino acid compositions of isolated CEs, and then modelled them in terms of linear combinations of the candidate proteins. The results show that stratum corneum CEs have a loricrin content of 65–70% (w/w) in human, and 80–85% in mouse. In human epidermal CEs, the secondary contributors are filaggrin and CRP (each approximately 10%), with smaller amounts of involucrin, SPRR and cystatin A (2-5% each) also present. Mouse epidermal CEs have about the same amount of filaggrin and somewhat more SPRR, but only trace amounts of the other proteins. In marked contrast, the major constituents of the CEs of cultured keratinocytes induced to terminal differentiation in vitro are cystatin A, involucrin and CRP (each approximately 30%). No significant amount of loricrin was detected except in sloughed mouse cells, which represent a more advanced state of terminal differentiation than attached cells.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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