Journal Article

Stem cells of the human epidermis and their niche: composition and function in epidermal regeneration and carcinogenesis

Karsten Boehnke, Berit Falkowska-Hansen, Hans-Jürgen Stark and Petra Boukamp

in Carcinogenesis

Volume 33, issue 7, pages 1247-1258
Published in print July 2012 | ISSN: 0143-3334
Published online March 2012 | e-ISSN: 1460-2180 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/carcin/bgs136
Stem cells of the human epidermis and their niche: composition and function in epidermal regeneration and carcinogenesis

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Skin, as the largest organ, has long been subject of excellent and pioneering studies on stem cells and their role in tissue regulation and tumor formation. In particular, intensive research on mouse skin, and here especially the hair follicle, has largely extended our knowledge. Surprisingly, human skin, although the most easily accessible tissue in man, is far less conceived with regard to its stem cells and their specific environment (the niche). In consequence, these features are as yet only insufficiently defined and it still has to be elucidated how insights in cutaneous stem cell biology gained in mice can be extrapolated to humans. In the last few years, human model systems such as humanized mice or in vitro organotypic cultures that support maintenance or reconstruction of human skin and long-term epidermal regeneration have been developed. These models allow lineage tracing experiments and can be modified by adopting genetically manipulated cell types. Accordingly, they represent proper tools for human stem cell research and will clearly help to improve our still incomplete understanding. Like normal skin, the non-melanoma skin cancers and their respective tumors have gained considerable interest in basic as well as in clinical research. Being the most frequent human tumors globally, basal cell carcinomas and cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) continue to increase in incidence and specifically SCCs predominate in immunosuppressed transplant recipients. This review intends to compile the present knowledge on keratinocyte stem cells and their niches in normal skin and skin carcinomas with a special focus on the human situation. In particular, the role of the microenvironment, the niche, is emphasized, promoting our view of the decisive importance of the niche as a key regulatory element for controlling position, fate and regenerative potential of the stem cell population both in healthy skin and in carcinomas.

Journal Article.  13236 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics

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