The epidermis of the skin is a highly polarized, metabolic tissue with important innate immune functions. The polarity of the epidermis is, for example, reflected in controlled changes in cell shape that accompany differentiation, oriented cell division, and the planar orientation of hair follicles and cilia. The establishment and maintenance of polarity is organized by a diverse set of polarity proteins that include transmembrane adhesion proteins, cytoskeletal scaffold proteins, and kinases. Although polarity proteins have been extensively studied in cell culture and in vivo in simple epithelia of lower organisms, their role in mammalian tissue biology is only slowly evolving. This article will address the importance of polarizing processes and their molecular regulators in epidermal morphogenesis and homeostasis and discuss how alterations in polarity may contribute to skin disease.
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