We recently demonstrated that the expression of the interferon regulatory factor 6 (IRF6) transcription factor in oral keratinocytes was stimulated by the periodontal pathogen
Porphyromonas gingivalis. Here, we have established that IRF6 promotes the differentiation of oral keratinocytes in response to P. gingivalis. This was evidenced by the IRF6-dependent upregulation of specific markers of keratinocyte terminal differentiation (e.g., involucrin [IVL] and keratin 13 [KRT13]), together with additional transcriptional regulators of keratinocyte differentiation, including Grainyhead-like 3 (GRHL3) and Ovo-like zinc finger 1 (OVOL1). We have previously established that the transactivator function of IRF6 is activated by receptor-interacting protein kinase 4 (RIPK4). Consistently, the silencing of RIPK4 inhibited the stimulation of IVL, KRT13, GRHL3, and OVOL1 gene expression. IRF6 was shown to also regulate the stimulation of transglutaminase-1 (TGM1) gene expression by P. gingivalis, as well as that of small proline-rich proteins (e.g., SPRR1), which are covalently cross-linked by TGM1 to other proteins, including IVL, during cornification. The expression of the tight junction protein occludin (OCLN) was found to also be upregulated in an IRF6-dependent manner. IRF6 was demonstrated to be important for the barrier function of oral keratinocytes; specifically, silencing of IRF6 increased P. gingivalis-induced intercellular permeability and cell invasion. Taken together, our findings potentially position IRF6 as an important mediator of barrier defense against P. gingivalis.