Epidermal growth factor (EGF), a low-molecular-weight polypeptide (G. Carpenter and S. Cohen, 1979, Annu. Rev. Biochem. 48, 193-216), stimulates the proliferation and keratinisation of cultured embryonic epidermis (S. Cohen, 1965, Dev. Biol. 12, 394-407) and promotes epidermal growth, thickening, and keratinisation when injected into neonatal mice (S. Cohen and G.A. Elliott, 1963, J. Invest. Dermatol, 40, 1-5). We have determined the distribution of the available receptors for epidermal growth factor in rat skin using autoradiography following incubation of explants with 125I-labelled mouse EGF. EGF receptors are detected on the epithelial cells overlying the basement membranes of the epidermis, sebaceous gland, and regions of the hair follicle all of which have proliferative capacity. In marked contrast, tissues which have started to differentiate and lost their growth potential, carry either an undetectable or sharply reduced number of EGF receptors. The EGF receptor number and receptor affinity of epidermal basal cells freshly isolated from rats of increasing age has also been determined. We find that receptor affinity remains unchanged (3.3 nM) but that basal cell surface receptor number decreases markedly with age. This decrease in receptor number is similar in trend to the known drop in basal cell [3H]thymidine labelling index which occurs over the same time period. The data suggest that the distribution of EGF receptors and EGF cell surface receptor number in skin are important in the spatial and temporal control of epithelial proliferation.
Keywords: Age Factors; Animals; Epidermal Growth Factor; Epidermis; Epithelial Cells; Rats; Receptor, Epidermal Growth Factor; Receptors, Cell Surface