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Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions     A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®

KRT gene family

Reviewed March 2012

What are the KRT genes?

Genes in the KRT family provide instructions for making proteins called keratins. Keratins are a group of tough, fibrous proteins that form the structural framework of epithelial cells, which are cells that line the surfaces and cavities of the body. Epithelial cells make up tissues such as the hair, skin, and nails. These cells also line the internal organs and are an important part of many glands.

Keratins are best known for providing strength and resilience to cells that form the hair, skin, and nails. These proteins allow tissues to resist damage from friction and minor trauma, such as rubbing and scratching. Keratins are also involved in several other critical cell functions, including cell movement (migration), regulation of cell size, cell growth and division (proliferation), wound healing, and transport of materials within cells.

Humans have at least 54 functional keratin genes, which are divided into type I and type II keratins. Most of the type I keratin genes, designated KRT9 through KRT20, are located in a cluster on chromosome 17. The type II keratin genes, designated KRT1 through KRT8, are found in another cluster on chromosome 12.

Different combinations of keratin proteins are found in different tissues. In each tissue, a type I keratin pairs with a type II keratin to form a structure called a heterodimer. Heterodimers interact with one another to form strong, flexible fibers called keratin intermediate filaments. These filaments assemble into a dense network, which forms the structural framework of cells.

Mutations in at least 20 KRT genes have been found to cause human diseases affecting the skin, hair, nails, and related tissues. The most well-studied of these diseases include epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS) and pachyonychia congenita. Mutations in KRT genes alter the structure of keratins, which prevent them from forming an effective network of keratin intermediate filaments. Without this network, cells become fragile and are easily damaged, making tissues less resistant to friction and minor trauma. Even normal activities such as walking can cause skin cells to break down, resulting in the formation of painful blisters and calluses.

Which genes are included in the KRT gene family?

The HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee (HGNC) provides an index of gene families ( and their member genes.

Genetics Home Reference summarizes the normal function and health implications of these members of the KRT gene family: KRT1, KRT3, KRT4, KRT5, KRT6A, KRT6B, KRT6C, KRT10, KRT12, KRT13, KRT14, KRT16, KRT17, KRT81, KRT83, and KRT86.

What conditions are related to genes in the KRT gene family?

Genetics Home Reference includes these conditions related to genes in the KRT gene family:

  • Dowling-Degos disease
  • epidermolysis bullosa simplex
  • epidermolytic hyperkeratosis
  • ichthyosis with confetti
  • Meesmann corneal dystrophy
  • monilethrix
  • Naegeli-Franceschetti-Jadassohn syndrome/dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis
  • pachyonychia congenita
  • steatocystoma multiplex
  • white sponge nevus

Where can I find additional information about the KRT gene family?

You may find the following resources about the KRT gene family helpful.

  • Molecular Biology of the Cell (fourth edition, 2002): Keratin Filaments in Epithelial Cells (image) ( (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
  • The Cell: A Molecular Approach (second edition, 2000): Intermediate Filaments ( (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

What glossary definitions help with understanding the KRT gene family?

cell ; chromosome ; cytoskeleton ; epithelial ; epithelium ; intermediate filaments ; keratin ; pachyonychia ; proliferation ; resilience ; tissue ; trauma

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.


These sources were used to develop the Genetics Home Reference summary for the KRT gene family.

  • Rugg EL, Leigh IM. The keratins and their disorders. Am J Med Genet C Semin Med Genet. 2004 Nov 15;131C(1):4-11. Review. (
  • Lane EB, McLean WH. Keratins and skin disorders. J Pathol. 2004 Nov;204(4):355-66. Review. (
  • Magin TM, Vijayaraj P, Leube RE. Structural and regulatory functions of keratins. Exp Cell Res. 2007 Jun 10;313(10):2021-32. Epub 2007 Mar 15. Review. (
  • Schweizer J, Bowden PE, Coulombe PA, Langbein L, Lane EB, Magin TM, Maltais L, Omary MB, Parry DA, Rogers MA, Wright MW. New consensus nomenclature for mammalian keratins. J Cell Biol. 2006 Jul 17;174(2):169-74. Epub 2006 Jul 10. (
  • Smith F. The molecular genetics of keratin disorders. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(5):347-64. Review. (
  • Szeverenyi I, Cassidy AJ, Chung CW, Lee BT, Common JE, Ogg SC, Chen H, Sim SY, Goh WL, Ng KW, Simpson JA, Chee LL, Eng GH, Li B, Lunny DP, Chuon D, Venkatesh A, Khoo KH, McLean WH, Lim YP, Lane EB. The Human Intermediate Filament Database: comprehensive information on a gene family involved in many human diseases. Hum Mutat. 2008 Mar;29(3):351-60. (


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Reviewed: March 2012
Published: February 8, 2016