In human patients, a wide range of mutations in keratin (K) 5 or K14 lead to the blistering skin disorder epidermolysis bullosa simplex. Given that K14 deficiency does not lead to the ablation of a basal cell cytoskeleton because of a compensatory role of K15, we have investigated the requirement for the keratin cytoskeleton in basal cells by inactivating the K5 gene in mice. We report that the K5-/- mice die shortly after birth, lack keratin filaments in the basal epidermis, and are more severely affected than K14-/- mice. In contrast to the K14-/- mice, we detected a strong induction of the wound-healing keratin K6 in the suprabasal epidermis of cytolyzed areas of postnatal K5-/- mice. In addition, K5 and K14 mice differed with respect to tongue lesions. Moreover, we show that in the absence of K5 and other type II keratins, residual K14 and K15 aggregated along hemidesmosomes, demonstrating that individual keratins without a partner are stable in vivo. Our data indicate that K5 may be the natural partner of K15 and K17. We suggest that K5 null mutations may be lethal in human epidermolysis bullosa simplex patients.