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A number of human cytokeratins are expressed during the development of stratified epithelia from one-layered polar epithelia and continue to be expressed in several adult epithelial tissues. For studies of the regulation of the synthesis of stratification-related cytokeratins in internal tissues, we have prepared cDNA and genomic clones encoding cytokeratin 4, as a representative of the basic (type II) cytokeratin subfamily and cytokeratin 15, as representative of the acidic (type I) subfamily, and determined their nucleotide sequences. The specific expression of mRNAs encoding these two polypeptides in certain stratified tissues and cultured cell lines is demonstrated by Northern blot hybridization. Hybridization in situ with antisense riboprobes and/or synthetic oligonucleotides shows the presence of cytokeratin 15 mRNA in all layers of esophagus, whereas cytokeratin 4 mRNA tends to be suprabasally enriched, although to degrees varying in different regions. We conclude that the expression of the genes encoding these stratification-related cytokeratins starts already in the basal cell layer and does not depend on vertical differentiation and detachment from the basal lamina. Our results also show that simple epithelial and stratification-related cytokeratins can be coexpressed in basal cell layers of certain stratified epithelia such as esophagus. Implications of these findings for epithelial differentiation and the formation of squamous cell carcinomas are discussed.