Distribution of Keratins in Lizard Scales

Keratins are the structural proteins of skin, hair, nails, feathers, and scales. There are 54 described  keratins in humans, a subset of which has also been found in the green anole genome. Distinct combinations of keratins in skin appendages are what give these tissues their unique properties such as flexibility, rigidity, or cornification (i.e., the process of forming an epithelial barrier). Lizards have a number of specialized scale types, likely due to the distinct distribution of keratins in those scales. Dating back at least a decade, Lorenzo Alibardi and colleagues have been making great progress describing the keratin gene family in lizards and describing the distribution of these proteins across the body. Alibardi has recently added to this long series with a description of keratin localization in the lamellae of Anolis carolinensis. Because I am not an expert in keratin biology I will let the Abstract give you the details:

ABSTRACT Knowledge of beta-protein (beta-keratin) sequences in Anolis carolinensis facilitates the localization of specific sites in the skin of this lizard. The epidermal distribution of two new beta-proteins (betakeratins), HgGC8 and HgG13, has been analyzed by Western blotting, light and ultrastructural immunocytochemistry. HgGC8 includes 16 kDa members of the glycine-cysteine medium-rich subfamily and is mainly expressed in the beta-layer of adhesive setae but not in the setae. HgGC8 is absent in other epidermal layers of the setae and is weakly expressed in the beta-layer of other scales. HgG13 comprises members of 17-kDa glycine-rich proteins and is absent in the setae, diffusely distributed in the beta layer of digital scales and barely present in the beta-layer of other scales. It appears that the specialized glycine-cysteine medium rich beta-proteins such as HgGC8 in the beta-layer, and of HgGC10 and HgGC3 in both alpha- and beta layers, are key proteins in the formation of the flexible epidermal layers involved in the function of these modified scales in adaptation to contact and adhesion on surfaces.

Fig. 10 from Alibardi 2014

Fig. 10 from Alibardi 2014


About Thomas Sanger

Thom Sanger is an Assistant Professor at Loyola University in Chicago. His lab specializes on understanding the developmental bases of Anolis lizard diversity.

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