Keratin (/ˈkɛrətɪn/) is one of a family of fibrous structural proteins. It is the key structural material making up hair, horns, claws, hooves, and the outer layer of human skin. Keratin is also the protein that protects epithelial cells from damage or stress. Keratin is extremely insoluble in water and organic solvents. Keratin monomers assemble into bundles to form intermediate filaments, which are tough and form strong unmineralized epidermal appendages found in reptiles, birds, amphibians, and mammals. The only other biological matter known to approximate the toughness of keratinized tissue is chitin.

Keratin derives from Greek κερατίνη keratíni from κέρας keras (genitive κέρατος keratos) meaning "horn" originating from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱer- of the same meaning. It is composed of "horn like", i.e., kerato, to which the chemical suffix -in is appended. The Greek keras (or keros) is used in many animal names, e.g. Rhinoceros, meaning "nose with a horn".

Keratin filaments are abundant in keratinocytes in the cornified layer of the epidermis; these are proteins which have undergone keratinization. In addition, keratin filaments are present in epithelial cells in general. For example, mouse thymic epithelial cells (TECs) are known to react with antibodies for keratin 5, keratin 8, and keratin 14. These antibodies are used as fluorescent markers to distinguish subsets of TECs in genetic studies of the thymus.

Additionally, the baleen plates of filter-feeding whales are made of keratin.

Keratins (also described as cytokeratins) are polymers of type I and type II intermediate filaments, which have only been found in the genomes of chordates (vertebrates, Amphioxus, urochordates). Nematodes and many other non-chordate animals seem to only have type VI intermediate filaments, lamins, which have a long rod domain (vs. a short rod domain for the keratins).

The human genome encodes 54 functional keratin genes which are located in two clusters on chromosomes 12 and 17. This suggests that they have originated from a series of gene duplications on these chromosomes.

This page was last edited on 23 April 2018, at 14:11.
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