Mutations in 11 of the more than 20 keratin intermediate filaments cause several epidermal and oral associated diseases. No disease-associated mutations have been described in keratin 8 or 18 (K8/18) which are the major keratin pair in simple-type epithelia, as found in the liver, pancreas, and intestine. However, transgenic mice that express mutant keratin 18 develop chronic hepatitis, and have an increased susceptibility to drug-induced hepatotoxicity. Also, ectopic expression of epidermal K14 in mouse liver results in chronic hepatitis, and disruption of mouse K8 leads to embryo lethality with extensive liver hemorrhage. We tested if patients with liver disease of unknown cause may harbor mutations in K18. We describe a his127→leu (H127L) K18 mutation in a patient with cryptogenic cirrhosis that is germline transmitted. The K18 H127L isolated from the liver explant, or after expression in bacteria, showed an altered migration on two-dimensional gel analysis as compared with normal human liver or bacterially expressed K18. Electron microscopy of in vitro assembled K18 H127L and wild type K8 showed an assembly defect as compared with normal K8/18 assembly. Our results suggest that mutations in K18 may be predispose to, or result in cryptogenic cirrhosis in humans.
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