AIMS--To establish the structural changes that occur in deep surgical wounds engrafted with allogeneic sheets, their time course and inter-relation. METHODS--Deep surgical wounds following shave excision of tattoos (down to deep dermis/subcutaneous fat) were treated with sheets of sex mismatched allogeneic keratinocytes in 19 patients and then biopsied weekly until wound healing was complete. More superficial surgical wounds--that is, 20 standard skin graft donor sites, were biopsied at seven to 10 days (all healed) following application of keratinocyte allografts. All biopsy specimens were examined with a large panel of monoclonal antibodies to keratins, envelope proteins, basement membrane components, and to extracellular matrix components. RESULTS--The hyperproliferative keratin pair K6/16 was expressed in all wounds, for up to six weeks in keratinocyte grafted deep wounds, and up to six months in split thickness skin grafted wounds. CONCLUSIONS--Keratins 6 and 16 have not been detected in normal skin, although the relevant mRNA has. This raises the possibility of regulation at a post-transcriptional level allowing a rapid response to injury with cytoskeletal changes that may aid cell migration. This keratin pair offers the most sensitive marker for altered epidermis following wounding.