The Development of a Standardised Protocol to Measure Squamous Differentiation in Stratified Epithelia, by using the Fluorescein Cadaverine Incorporation Technique

Alison C. Gray, Joanne Malton and Richard H. Clothier

Fluorescein cadaverine (FC) incorporation into cornified envelopes during squamous differentiation in stratified epithelia acts as a fluorescent substitute for endogenous transglutaminase substrates that can be visualised and quantified. The FC incorporation technique has been used to evaluate squamous differentiation in keratinocytes cultured in a medium that stimulates differentiation and in response to modulation by chemicals. A Standard Operating Procedure for the measurement of squamous differentiation is required as part of the prevalidation procedure for in vitro assays. In the present study, keratinocytes were isolated from the epidermis of 34 human donors. Cellular metabolic activity (resorufin production), total protein (kenacid blue uptake) and transglutaminase activity (FC incorporation) were measured in 87 and 21 independent runs at 6 and 12 days, respectively. Analysis of the control data showed that the cultures had a mean resorufin production that decreased over 12 days. This was inversely related to FC incorporation, which increased over 12 days. Mean protein concentration was reduced over the 12 days, but not in analyses that used donors for whom both 6-day and 12-day data were available. This information was used to define the normal limits within which the data should fall (mean ± 1 SD). Data sets falling outside the normal limits performed statistically no differently from the normal responders, in experiments conducted to investigate the effects of chemicals on the modulation of squamous differentiation in keratinocytes. This was demonstrated by using compounds that modify transglutaminase expression and/or activity. All-trans retinoic acid significantly inhibited FC incorporation, but stimulated resorufin production at 1 × 10–7M and above. Nicotine significantly up-regulated both FC incorporation and resorufin production at 125μg/ml. Hence, it was concluded that this robust assay approach, in which keratinocytes from a range of donors respond predictably to the test chemicals employed, did not justify the limitations that would be imposed by setting criteria that eliminated all data lying outside the normal range.
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