Tenascin/hexabrachion is a large glycoprotein of the extracellular matrix. Previous reports have demonstrated that tenascin is associated with epithelial-mesenchymal interfaces during embryogenesis and is prominent in the matrix of many tumors. However, the distribution of tenascin is more restricted in adult tissues. We have found tenascin to be present in normal human skin in a distribution distinct from other matrix proteins. Immunohistochemical studies showed staining of the papillary dermis immediately beneath the basal lamina. Examination of skin that had been split within the lamina lucida of the basement membrane suggested a localization of tenascin beneath the lamina lucida. In addition, there was finely localized staining within the walls of blood vessels and in the smooth muscle bundles of the arrectori pilorem. Very prominent staining was seen around the cuboidal cells that formed the basal layer of sweat gland ducts. The sweat glands themselves did not stain. The distribution of tenascin in the papillary dermis was studied at high resolution by immunoelectron microscopy. Staining was concentrated in small amorphous patches scattered amongst the collagen fibers beneath the basal lamina. These patches were not associated with cell structures, collagen, or elastic fibers. Tenascin could be partially extracted from the papillary dermis by urea, guanidine hydrochloride, or high pH solution. The extracted protein showed a 320-kD subunit similar to that purified from fibroblast or glioma cell cultures. We have developed a sensitive ELISA assay that can quantitate tenascin at concentrations as low as 5 ng/ml. Tests on extracts of the papillary dermis showed tenascin constituted about 0.02-0.05% of the protein extracted.

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