Journal of Investigative Dermatology
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A functional permeability barrier is essential to prevent the passage of water and electrolytes, macromolecules, and pathogens through the epidermis. This is accomplished in terminally differentiated keratinocytes through formation of a cornified envelope and the assembly of tight intercellular junctions. Integrin-linked kinase (ILK) is a scaffold protein essential for hair follicle morphogenesis and epidermal attachment to the basement membrane. However, the biological functions of ILK in differentiated keratinocytes remain poorly understood. Furthermore, whether ILK is implicated in keratinocyte differentiation and intercellular junction formation has remained an unresolved issue. Here we describe a pivotal role for ILK in keratinocyte differentiation responses to increased extracellular Ca2+, regulation of adherens and tight junction assembly, and the formation of an outside-in permeability barrier toward macromolecules. In the absence of ILK, the calcium sensing receptor, E-cadherin, and ZO-1 fail to translocate to the cell membrane, through mechanisms that involve abnormalities in microtubules and in RhoA activation. In situ, ILK-deficient epidermis exhibits reduced tight junction formation and increased outside-in permeability to a dextran tracer, indicating reduced barrier properties toward macromolecules. Therefore, ILK is an essential component of keratinocyte differentiation programs that contribute to epidermal integrity and the establishment of its barrier properties.