Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Genes and Development

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Elsa R. Flores, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Richard R. Behringer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mong-Hong Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael J. Galko, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kenneth Y. Tsai, M.D., Ph.D.


The skin is composed of two major compartments, the dermis and epidermis. The epidermis forms a barrier to protect the body. The stratified epithelium has self-renewing capacity throughout life, and continuous turnover is mediated by stem cells in the basal layer. p63 is structurally and functionally related to p53. In spite of their structural similarities, p63 is critical for the development and maintenance of stratified epithelial tissues, unlike p53. p63 is highly expressed in the epidermis and previously has been shown to play a critical role in the development and maintenance of the epidermis. The study of p63 has been complicated due to the existence of multiple isoforms: those with a transactivation domain (TAp63) and those lacking this domain (ΔNp63). Mice lacking p63 cannot form skin, have craniofacial and skeletal defects and die within hours after birth. These defects are due to the ability of p63 to regulate multiple processes in skin development including epithelial stem cell proliferation, differentiation, and adherence programs. To determine the roles of these isoforms in skin development and maintenance, isoform specific p63 conditional knock out mice were generated by our lab. TAp63-/- mice age prematurely, develop blisters, and display wound-healing defects that result from hyperproliferation of dermal stem cells. That results in premature depletion of these cells, which are necessary for wound repair, that indicates TAp63 plays a role in dermal/epidermal maintenance. To study the role of ΔNp63, I generated a ΔNp63-/- mouse and analyzed the skin by performing immunofluorescence for markers of epithelial differentiation. The ΔNp63-/- mice developed a thin, disorganized epithelium but differentiation markers were expressed. Interestingly, the epidermis from ΔNp63-/- mice co-expressed K14 and K10 in the same cell suggesting defects in epidermal differentiation and stratification. This phenotype is reminiscent of the DGCR8fl/fl;K14Cre and Dicerfl/fl;K14Cre mice skin. Importantly, DGCR8-/- embryonic stem cells (ESCs) display a hyperproliferation defect by failure to silence pluripotency genes. Furthermore, I have observed that epidermal cells lacking ΔNp63 display a phenotype reminiscent of embryonic stem cells instead of keratinocytes. Thus, I hypothesize that genes involved in maintaining pluripotency, like Oct4, may be upregulated in the absence of ΔNp63. To test this, q-RT PCR was performed for Oct4 mRNA with wild type and ΔNp63-/- 18.5dpc embryo skin. I found that the level of Oct4 was dramatically increased in the absence of ΔNp63-/-. Based on these results, I hypothesized that ΔNp63 induces differentiation by silencing pluripotency regulators, Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog directly through the regulation of DGCR8. I found that DGCR8 restoration resulted in repression of Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog in ΔNp63-/- epidermal cells and rescue differentiation defects. Loss of ΔNp63 resulted in pluripotency that caused defect in proper differentiation and stem cell like phenotype. This led me to culture the ΔNp63-/- epidermal cells in neuronal cell culture media in order to address whether restoration of DGCR8 can transform epidermal cells to neuronal cells. I found that DGCR8 restoration resulted in a change in cell fate. I also found that miR470 and miR145 play a role in the induction of pluripotency by repressing Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog. This indicates that ΔNp63 induces terminal differentiation through the regulation of DGCR8.


ΔNp63, Epidermis, Limb, Development, Differentiation, Pluripotency, DGCR8, microRNAs



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