In normal epidermis keratinocytes migrate upward from the basal layer as they undergo terminal differentiation, yet they also have the capacity for lateral movement during wound healing. The purpose of our experiments was to investigate these two types of movement by manipulating the calcium ion concentration of the medium so that keratinocytes formed monolayers (0.1 mM calcium) or stratified sheets (2.0 mM calcium). Time-lapse video recording indicated that keratinocytes in low-calcium medium were laterally more motile than keratinocytes in normal medium. This was consistent with the ultrastructural appearance of the cells and the lack of desmosomal junctions, determined by scanning and transmission electron microscopy. During calcium-induced stratification keratinocytes moved upward from the basal layer by gliding over their neighbors and forming contacts with other suprabasal cells. Keratinocytes in low-calcium medium migrated into wounds made in the cultures, a process which was inhibited by monensin; however, stratified keratinocytes in normal medium did not enter wounds. Cytochalasin D caused rapid cell rounding and disruption of actin filaments in keratinocytes grown in low-calcium but not in normal medium, indicating more rapid treadmilling of actin and consistent with the greater motility of keratinocytes in low-calcium medium. Our results suggest that desmosome formation may place constraints on the movement of individual keratinocytes and that the actomyosin cytoskeleton is involved in lateral migration.