Stem cells of the human prostate gland have not yet been identified utilizing a structural biomarker. We have discovered a new prostatic epithelial cell phenotype-expressing cytokeratin 6a (Ck6a+ cells). The Ck6a+ cells are present within a specialized niche in the basal cell compartment in fetal, juvenile and adult prostate tissue, and within the stem cell-enriched urogenital sinus. In adult normal prostate tissue, the average abundance of Ck6a+ cells was 4.9%. With proliferative stimuli in the prostate organ culture model, in which the epithelial-stromal interaction was maintained, a remarkable increase of Ck 6a expression was noticed to up to 64.9%. The difference in cytokeratin 6a expression between the normal adult prostate and the prostate organ culture model was statistically significant (p < 0.0001). Within the prostate organ culture model the increase of cytokeratin 6a-expressing cells significantly correlated with increased proliferation index (r = 0.7616, p = 0.0467) The Ck6a. + cells were capable of differentiation as indicated by their expression of luminal cell markers such as ZO-1 and prostate specific antigen (PSA). Our data indicate that Ck6a + cells represent a prostatic epithelial stem cell candidate possessing high potential for proliferation and differentiation. Since the development of benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate carcinogenesis are disorders of proliferation and differentiation, the Ck6a + cells may represent a major element in the development of these diseases. (c) 2005 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.
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