Throughout embryogenesis of the rat palate, from the early fetal to adult stages, a consistent subset of keratin proteins is synthesized in the epithelial lining cells. Although the relative abundance of particular keratins has been shown to vary with ongoing palatogenesis, the expression of finite keratins appears to be genetically predetermined. In order to preliminarily ascertain whether conformational changes accompanied intermediate filament ‘maturation’ from monomeric to polymeric keratin formation, we screened cytokeratins with polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies generated against adult-type keratins. Until epithelial stratification occurred on the 16th day of gestation, the keratin proteins were weakly immunoreactive. On the other hand, subsequent to epithelial thickening, adult-type immunoreactivity was initiated and progressed concomitantly with ongoing palatal development. These findings suggest that the cytokeratin intermediate filaments may progress through conformational ‘maturation’ during polymerization, and play a role in the eventual acquisition of the adult-type epithelial structure and function.

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