The epidermis is the outer part of the skin that protects the organism from dehydration and shields from external insults. Epidermal cells, called keratinocytes, undergo a series of morphological and metabolic changes that allow them to establish the biochemical and structural elements of an effective epidermal barrier. This process, known as epidermal differentiation, is critical for the maintenance of the epidermis under physiological conditions and also under stress or in various skin pathologies. Epidermal differentiation relies on a highly coordinated program of gene expression. Epigenetic mechanisms, which commonly include DNA methylation, covalent histone modifications, and microRNA (miRNA) activity, modulate various stages of gene expression by altering chromatin accessibility and mRNA stability. Their involvement in epidermal differentiation is a matter of intensive studies, and the results obtained thus far show a complex network of epigenetic factors, acting together with transcriptional regulators, to maintain epidermal homeostasis and counteract adverse effects of environmental stressors.
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