Ankyloblepharon, ectodermal defects, cleft lip/palate (AEC) syndrome is a rare autosomal dominant disorder caused by mutations in the p63 gene, essential for embryonic development of stratified epithelia. The most severe cutaneous manifestation of this disorder is the long-lasting skin fragility associated with severe skin erosions after birth. Using a knock-in mouse model for AEC syndrome, we found that skin fragility was associated with microscopic blistering between the basal and suprabasal compartments of the epidermis and reduced desmosomal contacts. Expression of desmosomal cadherins and desmoplakin was strongly reduced in AEC mutant keratinocytes and in newborn epidermis. A similar impairment in desmosome gene expression was observed in human keratinocytes isolated from AEC patients, in p63-depleted keratinocytes and in p63 null embryonic skin, indicating that p63 mutations causative of AEC syndrome have a dominant-negative effect on the wild-type p63 protein. Among the desmosomal components, desmocollin 3, desmoplakin and desmoglein 1 were the most significantly reduced by mutant p63 both at the RNA and protein levels. Chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments and transactivation assays revealed that p63 controls these genes at the transcriptional level. Consistent with reduced desmosome function, AEC mutant and p63-deficient keratinocytes had an impaired ability to withstand mechanical stress, which was alleviated by epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors known to stabilize desmosomes. Our study reveals that p63 is a crucial regulator of a subset of desmosomal genes and that this function is impaired in AEC syndrome. Reduced mechanical strength resulting from p63 mutations can be alleviated pharmacologically by increasing desmosome adhesion with possible therapeutic implications.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology