The amiloride-sensitive epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) is a main determinant of sodium absorption in renal and colonic epithelial cells. Surprisingly, it is also expressed in non-transporting epithelia such as the epidermis. To gain insight into the putative role of ENaC in keratinocytes, we have evaluated its expression in human skin and in cultured human keratinocytes. Our results indicate that (1) ENaC is expressed in the epidermis and in cultured keratinocytes, at the mRNA and at the protein levels, (2) the ratio of expression of the different ENaC subunits is drastically modified at the protein level during cell growth and differentiation, with a selective upregulation of the β subunit, (3) no transepithelial sodium transport function is apparent in cultured keratinocytes, but patch-clamp recordings indicate the existence of functional sodium channels with properties similar to those of the cloned ENaC and (4) ENaC inhibition does not alter keratinocyte proliferation, but it significantly decreases the frequency of dome formation in confluent keratinocyte cultures. These results document for the first time the characteristics of ENaC subunit expression in human keratinocytes, and suggest that ENaC may be important during differentiation.

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