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1.  The Desmosome 
Desmosomes are intercellular junctions that tether intermediate filaments to the plasma membrane. Desmogleins and desmocollins, members of the cadherin superfamily, mediate adhesion at desmosomes. Cytoplasmic components of the desmosome associate with the desmosomal cadherin tails through a series of protein interactions, which serve to recruit intermediate filaments to sites of desmosome assembly. These desmosomal plaque components include plakoglobin and the plakophilins, members of the armadillo gene family. Linkage to the cytoskeleton is mediated by the intermediate filament binding protein, desmoplakin, which associates with both plakoglobin and plakophilins. Although desmosomes are critical for maintaining stable cell–cell adhesion, emerging evidence indicates that they are also dynamic structures that contribute to cellular processes beyond that of cell adhesion. This article outlines the structure and function of the major desmosomal proteins, and explores the contributions of this protein complex to tissue architecture and morphogenesis.
Desmosomal proteins link neighboring cells and are anchored to intermediate filaments. They are essential for stable adhesion and play important roles in morphogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2742091  PMID: 20066089
2.  Cross-Talk between Adherens Junctions and Desmosomes Depends on Plakoglobin 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1997;136(4):919-934.
Squamous epithelial cells have both adherens junctions and desmosomes. The ability of these cells to organize the desmosomal proteins into a functional structure depends upon their ability first to organize an adherens junction. Since the adherens junction and the desmosome are separate structures with different molecular make up, it is not immediately obvious why formation of an adherens junction is a prerequisite for the formation of a desmosome. The adherens junction is composed of a transmembrane classical cadherin (E-cadherin and/or P-cadherin in squamous epithelial cells) linked to either β-catenin or plakoglobin, which is linked to α-catenin, which is linked to the actin cytoskeleton. The desmosome is composed of transmembrane proteins of the broad cadherin family (desmogleins and desmocollins) that are linked to the intermediate filament cytoskeleton, presumably through plakoglobin and desmoplakin. To begin to study the role of adherens junctions in the assembly of desmosomes, we produced an epithelial cell line that does not express classical cadherins and hence is unable to organize desmosomes, even though it retains the requisite desmosomal components. Transfection of E-cadherin and/or P-cadherin into this cell line did not restore the ability to organize desmosomes; however, overexpression of plakoglobin, along with E-cadherin, did permit desmosome organization. These data suggest that plakoglobin, which is the only known common component to both adherens junctions and desmosomes, must be linked to E-cadherin in the adherens junction before the cell can begin to assemble desmosomal components at regions of cell–cell contact. Although adherens junctions can form in the absence of plakoglobin, making use only of β-catenin, such junctions cannot support the formation of desmosomes. Thus, we speculate that plakoglobin plays a signaling role in desmosome organization.
PMCID: PMC2132504  PMID: 9049256
3.  Targeted mutation of plakoglobin in mice reveals essential functions of desmosomes in the embryonic heart 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1996;135(1):215-225.
Plakoglobin (gamma-catenin), a member of the armadillo family of proteins, is a constituent of the cytoplasmic plaque of desmosomes as well as of other adhering cell junctions, and is involved in anchorage of cytoskeletal filaments to specific cadherins. We have generated a null mutation of the plakoglobin gene in mice. Homozygous -/- mutant animals die between days 12-16 of embryogenesis due to defects in heart function. Often, heart ventricles burst and blood floods the pericard. This tissue instability correlates with the absence of desmosomes in heart, but not in epithelia organs. Instead, extended adherens junctions are formed in the heart, which contain desmosomal proteins, i.e., desmoplakin. Thus, plakoglobin is an essential component of myocardiac desmosomes and seems to play a crucial role in the sorting out of desmosomal and adherens junction components, and consequently in the architecture of intercalated discs and the stabilization of heart tissue.
PMCID: PMC2121015  PMID: 8858175
4.  Tyrosine Phosphorylation of Plakoglobin Causes Contrary Effects on Its Association with Desmosomes and Adherens Junction Components and Modulates β-Catenin-Mediated Transcription 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(20):7391-7402.
Plakoglobin is a protein closely related to β-catenin that links desmosomal cadherins to intermediate filaments. Plakoglobin can also substitute for β-catenin in adherens junctions, providing a connection between E-cadherin and α-catenin. Association of β-catenin with E-cadherin and α-catenin is regulated by phosphorylation of specific tyrosine residues; modification of β-catenin Tyr654 and Tyr142 decreases binding to E-cadherin and α-catenin, respectively. We show here that plakoglobin can also be phosphorylated on tyrosine residues, but unlike β-catenin, this modification is not always associated with disrupted association with junctional components. Protein tyrosine kinases present distinct specificities on β-catenin and plakoglobin, and phosphorylation of β-catenin-equivalent Tyr residues of plakoglobin affects its interaction with components of desmosomes or adherens junctions differently. For instance, Src, which mainly phosphorylates Tyr86 in β-catenin, modifies Tyr643 in plakoglobin, decreasing the interaction with E-cadherin and α-catenin and increasing the interaction with the α-catenin-equivalent protein in desmosomes, desmoplakin. The tyrosine kinase Fer, which modifies β-catenin Tyr142, lessening its association with α-catenin, phosphorylates plakoglobin Tyr549 and exerts the contrary effect: it raises the binding of plakoglobin to α-catenin. These results suggest that tyrosine kinases like Src or Fer modulate desmosomes and adherens junctions differently. Our results also indicate that phosphorylation of Tyr549 and the increased binding of plakoglobin to components of adherens junctions can contribute to the upregulation of the transcriptional activity of the β-catenin-Tcf-4 complex observed in many epithelial tumor cells.
PMCID: PMC230329  PMID: 14517306
5.  A New Perspective on Intercalated Disc Organization: Implications for Heart Disease 
Adherens junctions and desmosomes are intercellular adhesive junctions and essential for the morphogenesis, differentiation, and maintenance of tissues that are subjected to high mechanical stress, including heart and skin. The different junction complexes are organized at the termini of the cardiomyocyte called the intercalated disc. Disruption of adhesive integrity via mutations in genes encoding desmosomal proteins causes an inherited heart disease, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Besides plakoglobin, which is shared by adherens junctions and desmosomes, other desmosomal components, desmoglein-2, desmocollin-2, plakophilin-2, and desmoplakin are also present in ultrastructurally defined fascia adherens junctions of heart muscle, but not other tissues. This mixed-type of junctional structure is termed hybrid adhering junction or area composita. Desmosomal plakophilin-2 directly interacts with adherens junction protein alphaT-catenin, providing a new molecular link between the cadherin-catenin complex and desmosome. The area composita only exists in the cardiac intercalated disc of mammalian species suggesting that it evolved to strengthen mechanical coupling in the heart of higher vertebrates. The cross-talk among different junctions and their implication in the pathogenesis of ARVC are discussed in this review.
PMCID: PMC2879923  PMID: 20585598
6.  The desmosome and pemphigus 
Histochemistry and Cell Biology  2008;130(1):21-54.
Desmosomes are patch-like intercellular adhering junctions (“maculae adherentes”), which, in concert with the related adherens junctions, provide the mechanical strength to intercellular adhesion. Therefore, it is not surprising that desmosomes are abundant in tissues subjected to significant mechanical stress such as stratified epithelia and myocardium. Desmosomal adhesion is based on the Ca2+-dependent, homo- and heterophilic transinteraction of cadherin-type adhesion molecules. Desmosomal cadherins are anchored to the intermediate filament cytoskeleton by adaptor proteins of the armadillo and plakin families. Desmosomes are dynamic structures subjected to regulation and are therefore targets of signalling pathways, which control their molecular composition and adhesive properties. Moreover, evidence is emerging that desmosomal components themselves take part in outside-in signalling under physiologic and pathologic conditions. Disturbed desmosomal adhesion contributes to the pathogenesis of a number of diseases such as pemphigus, which is caused by autoantibodies against desmosomal cadherins. Beside pemphigus, desmosome-associated diseases are caused by other mechanisms such as genetic defects or bacterial toxins. Because most of these diseases affect the skin, desmosomes are interesting not only for cell biologists who are inspired by their complex structure and molecular composition, but also for clinical physicians who are confronted with patients suffering from severe blistering skin diseases such as pemphigus. To develop disease-specific therapeutic approaches, more insights into the molecular composition and regulation of desmosomes are required.
PMCID: PMC2413110  PMID: 18386043
Desmosomes; Desmogleins; Pemphigus; Autoantibodies; Steric hindrance; Desmoglein compensation
7.  Autoimmune and infectious skin diseases that target desmogleins 
Desmosomes are intercellular adhesive junctions of epithelial cells that contain two major transmembrane components, the desmogleins (Dsg) and desmocollins (Dsc), which are cadherin-type cell–cell adhesion molecules and are anchored to intermediate filaments of keratin through interactions with plakoglobin and desmoplakin. Desmosomes play an important role in maintaining the proper structure and barrier function of the epidermis and mucous epithelia. Four Dsg isoforms have been identified to date, Dsg1–Dsg4, and are involved in several skin and heart diseases. Dsg1 and Dsg3 are the two major Dsg isoforms in the skin and mucous membranes, and are targeted by IgG autoantibodies in pemphigus, an autoimmune disease of the skin and mucous membranes. Dsg1 is also targeted by exfoliative toxin (ET) released by Staphylococcus aureus in the infectious skin diseases bullous impetigo and staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS). ET is a unique serine protease that shows lock and key specificity to Dsg1. Dsg2 is expressed in all tissues possessing desmosomes, including simple epithelia and myocardia, and mutations in this gene are responsible for arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy/dysplasia. Dsg4 plays an important adhesive role mainly in hair follicles, and Dsg4 mutations cause abnormal hair development. Recently, an active disease model for pemphigus was generated by a unique approach using autoantigen-deficient mice that do not acquire tolerance against the defective autoantigen. Adoptive transfer of Dsg3−/− lymphocytes into mice expressing Dsg3 induces stable anti-Dsg3 IgG production with development of the pemphigus phenotype. This mouse model is a valuable tool with which to investigate immunological mechanisms of harmful IgG autoantibody production in pemphigus. Further investigation of desmoglein molecules will continue to provide insight into the unsolved pathophysiological mechanisms of diseases and aid in the development of novel therapeutic strategies with minimal side effects.
PMCID: PMC3108298  PMID: 20467217
cadherin; pemphigus; impetigo; SSSS; mouse model; ELISA
8.  The Amino-terminal Domain of Desmoplakin Binds to Plakoglobin and Clusters Desmosomal Cadherin–Plakoglobin Complexes  
The Journal of Cell Biology  1997;139(3):773-784.
The desmosome is a highly organized plasma membrane domain that couples intermediate filaments to the plasma membrane at regions of cell–cell adhesion. Desmosomes contain two classes of cadherins, desmogleins, and desmocollins, that bind to the cytoplasmic protein plakoglobin. Desmoplakin is a desmosomal component that plays a critical role in linking intermediate filament networks to the desmosomal plaque, and the amino-terminal domain of desmoplakin targets desmoplakin to the desmosome. However, the desmosomal protein(s) that bind the amino-terminal domain of desmoplakin have not been identified. To determine if the desmosomal cadherins and plakoglobin interact with the amino-terminal domain of desmoplakin, these proteins were co-expressed in L-cell fibroblasts, cells that do not normally express desmosomal components. When expressed in L-cells, the desmosomal cadherins and plakoglobin exhibited a diffuse distribution. However, in the presence of an amino-terminal desmoplakin polypeptide (DP-NTP), the desmosomal cadherins and plakoglobin were observed in punctate clusters that also contained DP-NTP. In addition, plakoglobin and DP-NTP were recruited to cell–cell interfaces in L-cells co-expressing a chimeric cadherin with the E-cadherin extracellular domain and the desmoglein-1 cytoplasmic domain, and these cells formed structures that were ultrastructurally similar to the outer plaque of the desmosome. In transient expression experiments in COS cells, the recruitment of DP-NTP to cell borders by the chimera required co-expression of plakoglobin. Plakoglobin and DP-NTP co-immunoprecipitated when extracted from L-cells, and yeast two hybrid analysis indicated that DP-NTP binds directly to plakoglobin but not Dsg1. These results identify a role for desmoplakin in organizing the desmosomal cadherin–plakoglobin complex and provide new insights into the hierarchy of protein interactions that occur in the desmosomal plaque.
PMCID: PMC2141713  PMID: 9348293
9.  The C-terminal unique region of desmoglein 2 inhibits its internalization via tail–tail interactions 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2012;199(4):699-711.
Tail–tail interactions of desmoglein 2, promoted by its C-terminal unique region, inhibit its internalization, stabilizing it at the cell surface and promoting intercellular adhesion.
Desmosomal cadherins, desmogleins (Dsgs) and desmocollins, make up the adhesive core of intercellular junctions called desmosomes. A critical determinant of epithelial adhesive strength is the level and organization of desmosomal cadherins on the cell surface. The Dsg subclass of desmosomal cadherins contains a C-terminal unique region (Dsg unique region [DUR]) with unknown function. In this paper, we show that the DUR of Dsg2 stabilized Dsg2 at the cell surface by inhibiting its internalization and promoted strong intercellular adhesion. DUR also facilitated Dsg tail–tail interactions. Forced dimerization of a Dsg2 tail lacking the DUR led to decreased internalization, supporting the conclusion that these two functions of the DUR are mechanistically linked. We also show that a Dsg2 mutant, V977fsX1006, identified in arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy patients, led to a loss of Dsg2 tail self-association and underwent rapid endocytosis in cardiac muscle cells. Our observations illustrate a new mechanism desmosomal cadherins use to control their surface levels, a key factor in determining their adhesion and signaling roles.
PMCID: PMC3494854  PMID: 23128240
10.  Unimpaired Skin Carcinogenesis in Desmoglein 3 Knockout Mice 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50024.
The contribution of adherens junction inactivation, typically by downregulation or mutation of the transmembrane core component E-cadherin, to cancer progression is well recognized. In contrast, the role of the desmosomal cadherin components of the related cell-cell adhesion junction, the desmosome, in cancer development has not been well explored. Here, we use mouse models to probe the functional role of desmosomal cadherins in carcinogenesis. Because mice lacking the desmosomal cadherin Desmoglein 3 (Dsg3) have revealed a crucial role for Dsg3 in cell-cell adhesion in stratified epithelia, we investigate the consequence of Dsg3 loss in two models of skin carcinogenesis. First, using Dsg3−/− keratinocytes, we show that these cells display adhesion defects in vitro and compromised tumor growth in allograft assays, suggesting that Dsg3 enables tumor formation in certain settings. In contrast, using an autochthonous model for SCC development in response to chronic UVB treatment, we discover a surprising lack of enhanced tumorigenesis in Dsg3−/− mice relative to controls, unlike mice lacking the desmosomal component Perp. Accordingly, there is no defect in the apoptotic response to UVB or enhanced immune cell infiltration upon Dsg3 loss that could promote tumorigenesis. Thus, Dsg3 does not display a clear function as a tumor suppressor in these mouse skin cancer models. Continued unraveling of the roles of Dsg3 and other desmosomal constituents in carcinogenesis in different contexts will be important for ultimately improving cancer diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment.
PMCID: PMC3503716  PMID: 23185521
11.  Desmosomal cadherins utilize distinct kinesins for assembly into desmosomes 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2011;195(7):1185-1203.
Desmogleins and desmocollins are transported to the plasma membrane by different kinesin motors, providing a potential mechanism to tailor desmosome structure and function during development and epithelial remodeling.
The desmosomal cadherins, desmogleins (Dsgs) and desmocollins (Dscs), comprise the adhesive core of intercellular junctions known as desmosomes. Although these adhesion molecules are known to be critical for tissue integrity, mechanisms that coordinate their trafficking into intercellular junctions to regulate their proper ratio and distribution are unknown. We demonstrate that Dsg2 and Dsc2 both exhibit microtubule-dependent transport in epithelial cells but use distinct motors to traffic to the plasma membrane. Functional interference with kinesin-1 blocked Dsg2 transport, resulting in the assembly of Dsg2-deficient junctions with minimal impact on distribution of Dsc2 or desmosomal plaque components. In contrast, inhibiting kinesin-2 prevented Dsc2 movement and decreased its plasma membrane accumulation without affecting Dsg2 trafficking. Either kinesin-1 or -2 deficiency weakened intercellular adhesion, despite the maintenance of adherens junctions and other desmosome components at the plasma membrane. Differential regulation of desmosomal cadherin transport could provide a mechanism to tailor adhesion strength during tissue morphogenesis and remodeling.
PMCID: PMC3246898  PMID: 22184201
12.  Mispolarization of Desmosomal Proteins and Altered Cell Adhesion in Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease 
Polycystin-1, the product of the major gene mutated in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), associates with multiple epithelial cell junctions, including desmosomes. It was our objective to identify the molecular interactions between polycystin-1 and desmosomal components in primary human kidney epithelial cells and to determine if desmosomal adhesion is altered in ADPKD. Using laser scanning confocal microscopy and two models of cell polarization, polycystin-1 and desmosomes were found to colocalize during the initial establishment of cell-cell contact when junctions were forming. However, colocalization was lost in confluent monolayers. Parallel morphological and biochemical evaluations of polycystic kidney tissue and primary epithelial cells from ADPKD cysts revealed a profound mispolarization of desmosomal components to both the apical and basolateral domains of the disease cells. Structural and functional evaluations of the desmosomal assemblies in ADPKD cells provide evidence for impaired cytokeratin expression and increased sensitivity of the monolayers to shear stress. Together, these discoveries suggest a transient role for polycystin-1 activity in the assembly of functional desmosomes at early stages of cell differentiation and polarization, which when disrupted leads to abnormal desmosomal adhesion in ADPKD.
PMCID: PMC3432402  PMID: 15701820
13.  Desmosomes In Vivo 
The structure, function, and regulation of desmosomal adhesion in vivo are discussed. Most desmosomes in tissues exhibit calcium-independent adhesion, which is strongly adhesive or “hyperadhesive”. This is fundamental to tissue strength. Almost all studies in culture are done on weakly adhesive, calcium-dependent desmosomes, although hyperadhesion can be readily obtained in confluent cell culture. Calcium dependence is a default condition in vivo, found in wounds and embryonic development. Hyperadhesion appears to be associated with an ordered arrangement of the extracellular domains of the desmosomal cadherins, which gives rise to the intercellular midline identified in ultrastructural studies. This in turn probably depends on molecular order in the desmosomal plaque. Protein kinase C downregulates hyperadhesion and there is preliminary evidence that it may also be regulated by tyrosine kinases. Downregulation of desmosomes in vivo may occur by internalisation of whole desmosomes rather than disassembly. Hyperadhesion has implications for diseases such as pemphigus.
PMCID: PMC2905707  PMID: 20671997
14.  Regulation of β-Catenin Levels and Localization by Overexpression of Plakoglobin and Inhibition of the Ubiquitin-Proteasome System  
The Journal of Cell Biology  1997;139(5):1325-1335.
β-Catenin and plakoglobin (γ-catenin) are closely related molecules of the armadillo family of proteins. They are localized at the submembrane plaques of cell–cell adherens junctions where they form independent complexes with classical cadherins and α-catenin to establish the link with the actin cytoskeleton. Plakoglobin is also found in a complex with desmosomal cadherins and is involved in anchoring intermediate filaments to desmosomal plaques. In addition to their role in junctional assembly, β-catenin has been shown to play an essential role in signal transduction by the Wnt pathway that results in its translocation into the nucleus. To study the relationship between plakoglobin expression and the level of β-catenin, and the localization of these proteins in the same cell, we employed two different tumor cell lines that express N-cadherin, and α- and β-catenin, but no plakoglobin or desmosomal components. Individual clones expressing various levels of plakoglobin were established by stable transfection. Plakoglobin overexpression resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in the level of β-catenin in each clone. Induction of plakoglobin expression increased the turnover of β-catenin without affecting RNA levels, suggesting posttranslational regulation of β-catenin. In plakoglobin overexpressing cells, both β-catenin and plakoglobin were localized at cell– cell junctions. Stable transfection of mutant plakoglobin molecules showed that deletion of the N-cadherin binding domain, but not the α-catenin binding domain, abolished β-catenin downregulation. Inhibition of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in plakoglobin overexpressing cells blocked the decrease in β-catenin levels and resulted in accumulation of both β-catenin and plakoglobin in the nucleus. These results suggest that (a) plakoglobin substitutes effectively with β-catenin for association with N-cadherin in adherens junctions, (b) extrajunctional β-catenin is rapidly degraded by the proteasome-ubiquitin system but, (c) excess β-catenin and plakoglobin translocate into the nucleus.
PMCID: PMC2140206  PMID: 9382877
15.  EGFR and ADAMs Cooperate to Regulate Shedding and Endocytic Trafficking of the Desmosomal Cadherin Desmoglein 2 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2009;20(1):328-337.
Regulation of classic cadherins plays a critical role in tissue remodeling during development and cancer; however, less attention has been paid to the importance of desmosomal cadherins. We previously showed that EGFR inhibition results in accumulation of the desmosomal cadherin, desmoglein 2 (Dsg2), at cell–cell interfaces accompanied by inhibition of matrix metalloprotease (MMP)-dependent shedding of the Dsg2 ectodomain and tyrosine phosphorylation of its cytoplasmic domain. Here, we show that EGFR inhibition stabilizes Dsg2 at intercellular junctions by interfering with its accumulation in an internalized cytoplasmic pool. Furthermore, MMP inhibition and ADAM17 RNAi, blocked shedding and depleted internalized Dsg2, but less so E-cadherin, in highly invasive SCC68 cells. ADAM9 and 15 silencing also impaired Dsg2 processing, supporting the idea that this desmosomal cadherin can be regulated by multiple ADAM family members. In contrast, ADAM10 siRNA enhanced accumulation of a 100-kDa Dsg2 cleavage product and internalized pool of Dsg2. Although both MMP and EGFR inhibition increased intercellular adhesive strength in control cells, the response to MMP-inhibition was Dsg2-dependent. These data support a role for endocytic trafficking in regulating desmosomal cadherin turnover and function and raise the possibility that internalization and regulation of desmosomal and classic cadherin function can be uncoupled mechanistically.
PMCID: PMC2613100  PMID: 18987342
16.  Keratins control intercellular adhesion involving PKC-α–mediated desmoplakin phosphorylation 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2013;201(5):681-692.
Keratins limit PKC-α phosphorylation activity and desmosome turnover to ensure the stability of epithelial intracellular adhesion.
Maintenance of epithelial cell adhesion is crucial for epidermal morphogenesis and homeostasis and relies predominantly on the interaction of keratins with desmosomes. Although the importance of desmosomes to epidermal coherence and keratin organization is well established, the significance of keratins in desmosome organization has not been fully resolved. Here, we report that keratinocytes lacking all keratins show elevated, PKC-α–mediated desmoplakin phosphorylation and subsequent destabilization of desmosomes. We find that PKC-α activity is regulated by Rack1–keratin interaction. Without keratins, desmosomes assemble but are endocytosed at accelerated rates, rendering epithelial sheets highly susceptible to mechanical stress. Re-expression of the keratin pair K5/14, inhibition of PKC-α activity, or blocking of endocytosis reconstituted both desmosome localization at the plasma membrane and epithelial adhesion. Our findings identify a hitherto unknown mechanism by which keratins control intercellular adhesion, with potential implications for tumor invasion and keratinopathies, settings in which diminished cell adhesion facilitates tissue fragility and neoplastic growth.
PMCID: PMC3664716  PMID: 23690176
17.  Suppression of tumorigenicity by plakoglobin: an augmenting effect of N- cadherin 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1996;133(1):199-209.
Plakoglobin is a major component of the submembranal plaque of adherens junctions and desmosomes in mammalian cells. It is closely related to the Drosophila segment polarity gene armadillo which has a role in the transduction of transmembrane signals that regulate cell fate. Like its close homologue beta-catenin, plakoglobin can associate with the product of the tumor suppressor gene APC that is linked to human colon cancer. We have studied the effect of plakoglobin overexpression, and the cooperation between plakoglobin and N-cadherin, on the morphology and tumorigenic ability of cells either lacking, or expressing cadherin and alpha- and beta-catenin. Overexpression of plakoglobin in SV40- transformed 3T3 (SVT2) cells suppressed the tumorigenicity of the cells in syngeneic mice. Transfection with N-cadherin conferred an epithelial phenotype on the cell culture, but had no significant effect on the tumorigenicity of the cells. Cotransfection of plakoglobin and N- cadherin into SVT2 cells, however, was considerably more effective in tumor suppression than plakoglobin overexpression alone. Finally, transfection of plakoglobin into a human renal carcinoma cell line that expresses neither cadherins nor plakoglobin, or alpha-and beta-catenin, resulted in a dose-dependent suppression of tumor formation by these cells in nude mice. Plakoglobin, in these cells, did not exhibit junctional localization and was diffusely distributed in the cytoplasm, with a significant amount of the protein also localized in the nucleus. The results suggest that plakoglobin can efficiently suppress the tumorigenicity of cells in the presence of, or independently of the cadherin-catenin complex.
PMCID: PMC2120779  PMID: 8601608
18.  Isolation of the intercellular glycoproteins of desmosomes 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1981;90(1):243-248.
To characterize the desmosome components that mediate intercellular adhesion and cytoskeletal-plasma membrane attachment, we prepared whole desmosomes and isolated desmosomal intercellular regions (desmosomal "cores") from the living cell layers of bovine muzzle epidermis. The tissue was disrupted in a nonionic detergent at low pH, sonicated, and the insoluble residue fractionated by differential centrifugation and metrizamide gradient centrifugation. Transmission electron microscopic analyses reveal that a fraction obtained after differential centrifugation is greatly enriched in whole desmosomes that possess intracellular plaques. Metrizamide gradient centrifugation removes most of the plaque material, leaving the intercellular components and the adjoining plasma membranes. Sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis coupled with methods that reveal carbohydrate- containing moieties on gels demonstrate that certain proteins present in whole desmosomes are glycosylated. These glycoproteins are specifically and greatly enriched in the desmosome cores of which they are the principal protein constituents, and thus may function as the intercellular adhesive of the desmosome.
PMCID: PMC2111822  PMID: 6166625
19.  Loss of the p53/p63 Regulated Desmosomal Protein Perp Promotes Tumorigenesis 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001168.
Dysregulated cell–cell adhesion plays a critical role in epithelial cancer development. Studies of human and mouse cancers have indicated that loss of adhesion complexes known as adherens junctions contributes to tumor progression and metastasis. In contrast, little is known regarding the role of the related cell–cell adhesion junction, the desmosome, during cancer development. Studies analyzing expression of desmosome components during human cancer progression have yielded conflicting results, and therefore genetic studies using knockout mice to examine the functional consequence of desmosome inactivation for tumorigenesis are essential for elucidating the role of desmosomes in cancer development. Here, we investigate the consequences of desmosome loss for carcinogenesis by analyzing conditional knockout mice lacking Perp, a p53/p63 regulated gene that encodes an important component of desmosomes. Analysis of Perp-deficient mice in a UVB-induced squamous cell skin carcinoma model reveals that Perp ablation promotes both tumor initiation and progression. Tumor development is associated with inactivation of both of Perp's known functions, in apoptosis and cell–cell adhesion. Interestingly, Perp-deficient tumors exhibit widespread downregulation of desmosomal constituents while adherens junctions remain intact, suggesting that desmosome loss is a specific event important for tumorigenesis rather than a reflection of a general change in differentiation status. Similarly, human squamous cell carcinomas display loss of PERP expression with retention of adherens junctions components, indicating that this is a relevant stage of human cancer development. Using gene expression profiling, we show further that Perp loss induces a set of inflammation-related genes that could stimulate tumorigenesis. Together, these studies suggest that Perp-deficiency promotes cancer by enhancing cell survival, desmosome loss, and inflammation, and they highlight a fundamental role for Perp and desmosomes in tumor suppression. An understanding of the factors affecting cancer progression is important for ultimately improving the diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment of cancer.
Author Summary
Changes in tissue architecture, such as loss of adhesion between cells, have been shown to facilitate cancer development, especially metastasis where cells can detach from a tumor and spread throughout the body. While various studies have demonstrated that inactivation of an adhesion complex known as the adherens junction promotes cancer development and metastasis, little is known about the role of the desmosome—a related cell–cell adhesion complex—in tumorigenesis. Here we examine the consequence of desmosome-deficiency for tumor development by studying mice lacking a key component of desmosomes in the skin, a protein known as Perp. Using a mouse model for human skin cancer, in which ultraviolet light promotes skin cancer development, we demonstrate that Perp-deficiency indeed leads to accelerated skin tumorigenesis. We similarly observe that PERP is lost during human skin cancer development, suggesting that PERP is also important as a tumor suppressor in humans. These findings demonstrate that desmosome-deficiency achieved by Perp inactivation can promote cancer and suggest the potential utility of monitoring PERP status for staging, prognostication, or treatment of human cancers.
PMCID: PMC2958815  PMID: 20975948
20.  Desmoglein 3, via an Interaction with E-cadherin, Is Associated with Activation of Src 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14211.
Desmoglein 3 (Dsg3), a desmosomal adhesion protein, is expressed in basal and immediate suprabasal layers of skin and across the entire stratified squamous epithelium of oral mucosa. However, increasing evidence suggests that the role of Dsg3 may involve more than just cell-cell adhesion.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To determine possible additional roles of Dsg3 during epithelial cell adhesion we used overexpression of full-length human Dsg3 cDNA, and RNAi-mediated knockdown of this molecule in various epithelial cell types. Overexpression of Dsg3 resulted in a reduced level of E-cadherin but a colocalisation with the E-cadherin-catenin complex of the adherens junctions. Concomitantly these transfected cells exhibited marked migratory capacity and the formation of filopodial protrusions. These latter events are consistent with Src activation and, indeed, Src-specific inhibition reversed these phenotypes. Moreover Dsg3 knockdown, which also reversed the decreased level of E-cadherin, partially blocked Src phosphorylation.
Our data are consistent with the possibility that Dsg3, as an up-stream regulator of Src activity, helps regulate adherens junction formation.
PMCID: PMC2997060  PMID: 21151980
21.  Intermediate filament–membrane attachments function synergistically with actin-dependent contacts to regulate intercellular adhesive strength 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2002;159(6):1005-1017.
By tethering intermediate filaments (IFs) to sites of intercellular adhesion, desmosomes facilitate formation of a supercellular scaffold that imparts mechanical strength to a tissue. However, the role IF–membrane attachments play in strengthening adhesion has not been directly examined. To address this question, we generated Tet-On A431 cells inducibly expressing a desmoplakin (DP) mutant lacking the rod and IF-binding domains (DPNTP). DPNTP localized to the plasma membrane and led to dissociation of IFs from the junctional plaque, without altering total or cell surface distribution of adherens junction or desmosomal proteins. However, a specific decrease in the detergent-insoluble pool of desmoglein suggested a reduced association with the IF cytoskeleton. DPNTP-expressing cell aggregates in suspension or substrate-released cell sheets readily dissociated when subjected to mechanical stress whereas controls remained largely intact. Dissociation occurred without lactate dehydrogenase release, suggesting that loss of tissue integrity was due to reduced adhesion rather than increased cytolysis. JD-1 cells from a patient with a DP COOH-terminal truncation were also more weakly adherent compared with normal keratinocytes. When used in combination with DPNTP, latrunculin A, which disassembles actin filaments and disrupts adherens junctions, led to dissociation up to an order of magnitude greater than either treatment alone. These data provide direct in vitro evidence that IF–membrane attachments regulate adhesive strength and suggest furthermore that actin- and IF-based junctions act synergistically to strengthen adhesion.
PMCID: PMC2173978  PMID: 12499357
desmosome; desmoplakin; intermediate filaments; cadherins; adherens junction
22.  FRAP Analysis Reveals Stabilization of Adhesion Structures in the Epidermis Compared to Cultured Keratinocytes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71491.
Proper development and tissue maintenance requires cell-cell adhesion structures, which serve diverse and crucial roles in tissue morphogenesis. Epithelial tissues have three main types of cell-cell junctions: tight junctions, which play a major role in barrier formation, and adherens junctions and desmosomes, which provide mechanical stability and organize the underlying cytoskeleton. Our current understanding of adhesion function is hindered by a lack of tools and methods to image junctions in mammals. To better understand the dynamics of adhesion in tissues we have created a knock-in ZO-1-GFP mouse and a BAC-transgenic mouse expressing desmoplakin I-GFP. We performed fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) experiments to quantify the turnover rates of the tight junction protein ZO-1, the adherens junction protein E-cadherin, and the desmosomal protein desmoplakin in the epidermis. Proteins at each type of junction are remarkably stable in the epidermis, in contrast to the high observed mobility of E-cadherin and ZO-1 at adherens junctions and tight junctions, respectively, in cultured cells. Our data demonstrate that there are additional mechanisms for stabilizing junctions in tissues that are not modeled by cell culture.
PMCID: PMC3747223  PMID: 23977053
23.  Plakophilin 2 Couples Actomyosin Remodeling to Desmosomal Plaque Assembly via RhoA 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2010;21(16):2844-2859.
The desmosomal armadillo protein plakophilin 2 (PKP2) regulates cell contact-initiated cortical actin remodeling through the regulation of RhoA localization and activity to couple adherens junction maturation with desmosomal plaque assembly.
Plakophilin 2 (PKP2), an armadillo family member closely related to p120 catenin (p120ctn), is a constituent of the intercellular adhesive junction, the desmosome. We previously showed that PKP2 loss prevents the incorporation of desmosome precursors enriched in the plaque protein desmoplakin (DP) into newly forming desmosomes, in part by disrupting PKC-dependent regulation of DP assembly competence. On the basis of the observation that DP incorporation into junctions is cytochalasin D–sensitive, here we ask whether PKP2 may also contribute to actin-dependent regulation of desmosome assembly. We demonstrate that PKP2 knockdown impairs cortical actin remodeling after cadherin ligation, without affecting p120ctn expression or localization. Our data suggest that these defects result from the failure of activated RhoA to localize at intercellular interfaces after cell–cell contact and an elevation of cellular RhoA, stress fibers, and other indicators of contractile signaling in squamous cell lines and atrial cardiomyocytes. Consistent with these observations, RhoA activation accelerated DP redistribution to desmosomes during the first hour of junction assembly, whereas sustained RhoA activity compromised desmosome plaque maturation. Together with our previous findings, these data suggest that PKP2 may functionally link RhoA- and PKC-dependent pathways to drive actin reorganization and regulate DP–IF interactions required for normal desmosome assembly.
PMCID: PMC2921118  PMID: 20554761
24.  Exploring the Nature of Desmosomal Cadherin Associations in 3D 
Desmosomes are a complex assembly of protein molecules that mediate adhesion between adjacent cells. Desmosome composition is well established and spatial relationships between components have been identified. Intercellular cell-cell adhesion is created by the interaction of extracellular domains of desmosomal cadherins, namely, desmocollins and desmogleins. High-resolution methods have provided insight into the structural interactions between cadherins. However, there is a lack of understanding about the architecture of the intact desmosomes and the physical principles behind their adhesive strength are unclear. Electron Tomography (ET) studies have offered three-dimensional visual data of desmosomal cadherin associations at molecular resolution. This review discusses the merits of two cadherin association models represented using ET. We discuss the possible role of sample preparation on the structural differences seen between models and the possibility of adaptive changes in the structure as a direct consequence of mechanical stress and stratification.
PMCID: PMC2905946  PMID: 20672011
25.  The vertebrate adhesive junction proteins beta-catenin and plakoglobin and the Drosophila segment polarity gene armadillo form a multigene family with similar properties 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1992;118(3):681-691.
Three proteins identified by quite different criteria in three different systems, the Drosophila segment polarity gene armadillo, the human desmosomal protein plakoglobin, and the Xenopus E-cadherin- associated protein beta-catenin, share amino acid sequence similarity. These findings raise questions about the relationship among the three molecules and their roles in different cell-cell adhesive junctions. We have found that antibodies against the Drosophila segment polarity gene armadillo cross react with a conserved vertebrate protein. This protein is membrane associated, probably via its interaction with a cadherin- like molecule. This cross-reacting protein is the cadherin-associated protein beta-catenin. Using anti-armadillo and antiplakoglobin antibodies, it was shown that beta-catenin and plakoglobin are distinct molecules, which can coexist in the same cell type. Plakoglobin interacts with the desmosomal glycoprotein desmoglein I, and weakly with E-cadherin. Although beta-catenin interacts tightly with E- cadherin, it does not seem to be associated with either desmoglein I or with isolated desmosomes. Anti-armadillo antibodies have been further used to determine the intracellular localization of beta-catenin, and to examine its tissue distribution. The implications of these results for the structure and function of different cell-cell adhesive junctions are discussed.
PMCID: PMC2289544  PMID: 1639851

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