Different patterns of cytokeratin expression in the normal epithelia of the upper respiratory tract

Raymond B. Nagle, Roland Moll, Hagen Weidauer, Hedi Nemetschek, Werner W. Franke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The distribution and type of cytokeratins present in the normal human epithelia of the nasopharynx, oropharynx, tongue, palatine tonsil, epiglottis, vocal cord, and laryngeal ventricle were studied using immunohistochemical techniques and by gel electrophoresis of cytoskeletal proteins microdissected from frozen tissues. Noncornifying stratified epithelia covering the oropharynx, tongue, surface of the palatine tonsil, pharyngeal surface of the epiglottis, and vocal cord were all found to contain cytokeratins nos. 4, 5, 6, 13, 14, and 15, together with minor amounts of cytokeratin no. 19, i.e., a pattern similar to that previously reported for esophageal epithelium. The immunohistochemical reaction with KA4, an antibody specific for cytokeratins nos. 14, 15, 16, and 19, revealed reactivity confined to the basal epithelial cells of the tongue, oropharynx, pharyngeal epiglottis, and two out of five samples of vocal cords. This same antibody reacted with the entire thickness of three out of the five true vocal cords which were shown by gel electrophoresis to also contain cytokeratins nos. 16 and 17. Gel electrophoresis revealed that the pseudostratified columnar epithelium covering the laryngeal ventricle was more complex, in that it contained cytokeratins nos. 5, 13, 14, 15, and 17, which are typical of stratified epithelia, as well as cytokeratins nos. 7, 8, 18, and 19, which are characteristic of simple epithelia. This pattern is similar to that found in bronchial epithelium. The laryngeal surface of the epiglottis exhibited cytokeratins nos. 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, and 19, i.e., a pattern combining features of both esophageal- and bronchial-type epithelia. The reaction of these epithelia containing columnar cells with antibody RGE-53, which is specific for cytokeratin no. 18, revealed a staining reaction confined to the superficial columnar cells, whereas KA1 stained only the basal cells of these epithelia. The results of our study make it possible to distinguish two types of noncornifying stratified squamous epithelium, namely the ‘esophageal type’ which covers the tongue, oropharynx, and pharyngeal surface of the epiglottis, and another type which overlies the vocal cords and the transitional zone between the pharyngeal and laryngeal surfaces of the epiglottis. Furthermore, there appear to be variants of pseudostratified columnar epithelium, i.e., the usual bronchial type lining the laryngeal ventricle, and a type with a thicker subcolumnar cell compartment that is found on the laryngeal surface of the epiglottis. The patterns of expression of cytokeratins in the respiratory tract are compared with those of other epithelia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-140
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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