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1.  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
2.  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
3.  Identification of the plakoglobin-binding domain in desmoglein and its role in plaque assembly and intermediate filament anchorage 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1994;127(1):151-160.
The carboxyterminal cytoplasmic portions (tails) of desmosomal cadherins of both the desmoglein (Dsg) and desmocollin type are integral components of the desmosomal plaque and are involved in desmosome assembly and the anchorage of intermediate-sized filaments. When additional Dsg tails were introduced by cDNA transfection into cultured human epithelial cells, in the form of chimeras with the aminoterminal membrane insertion domain of rat connexin32 (Co32), the resulting stably transfected cells showed a dominant-negative defect specific for desmosomal junctions: despite the continual presence of all desmosomal proteins, the endogenous desmosomes disappeared and the formation of Co32-Dsg chimeric gap junctions was inhibited. Using cell transfection in combination with immunoprecipitation techniques, we have examined a series of deletion mutants of the Dsg1 tail in Co32-Dsg chimeras. We show that upon removal of the last 262 amino acids the truncated Dsg tail still effects the binding of plakoglobin but not of detectable amounts of any catenin and induces the dominant-negative phenotype. However, further truncation or excision of the next 41 amino acids, which correspond to the highly conserved carboxyterminus of the C-domain in other cadherins, abolishes plakoglobin binding and allows desmosomes to reform. Therefore, we conclude that this short segment provides a plakoglobin-binding site and is important for plaque assembly and the specific anchorage of either actin filaments in adherens junctions or IFs in desmosomes.
PMCID: PMC2120186  PMID: 7929560
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
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.  Continual assembly of half-desmosomal structures in the absence of cell contacts and their frustrated endocytosis: a coordinated Sisyphus cycle 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1995;131(3):745-760.
It is widely assumed that the coordinate assembly of desmosomal cadherins and plaque proteins into desmosome-typical plaque-coated membrane domains, capable of anchoring intermediate-sized filaments (IF), requires cell-to-cell contacts and a critical extracellular Ca2+ concentration. To test this hypothesis we studied several cell lines grown for years in media with less than 0.1 mM Ca2+ to steady-state low Ca2+ medium (LCM) conditions, particularly the human keratinocyte line HaCaT devoid of any junctional cell contact (HaCaT-L cells). Using immunolocalization and vesicle fractionation techniques, we found that the transmembrane glycoprotein, desmoglein (Dsg), colocalized with the plaque proteins, desmoplakin and plakoglobin. The sites of coassembly of desmosomal molecules in HaCaT-L cells as well as in HaCaT cells directly brought into LCM were identified as asymmetric plaque-coated plasma membrane domains (half-desmosomes) or as special plaque- associated cytoplasmic vesicles, most of which had formed endocytotically. The surface exposure of Dsg in these half-desmosomes was demonstrated by the binding, in vivo, of antibodies specific for an extracellular Dsg segment which also could cross-bridge them into symmetric quasi-desmosomes. Otherwise, these half-desmosomes were shown in LCM to be taken up endocytotically. Half-desmosomal assemblies were also seen in uncoupled cells in normal Ca2+ medium. We conclude that, in the absence of intercellular contacts, assembly of desmosomal proteins at the cell surface takes place, resulting in transient half- desmosomes which then, in LCM and without a stable partner connection to the adjacent cell, can be endocytotically resumed. This frustrated cycle of synthesis and assembly maintains an ensemble of molecules characteristic of epithelial differentiation and the potential to form desmosomes, even when the final junctional structure cannot be formed. We propose that these half-desmosomal structures are general cell structures of epithelial and other desmosome-forming cells.
PMCID: PMC2120618  PMID: 7593194
10.  Protein zero, a nervous system adhesion molecule, triggers epithelial reversion in host carcinoma cells 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1995;131(2):465-482.
Protein zero (P(o)) is the immunoglobulin gene superfamily glycoprotein that mediates the self-adhesion of the Schwann cell plasma membrane that yields compact myelin. HeLa is a poorly differentiated carcinoma cell line that has lost characteristic morphological features of the cervical epithelium from which it originated. Normally, HeLa cells are not self-adherent. However, when P(o) is artificially expressed in this line, cells rapidly aggregate, and P(o) concentrates specifically at cell-cell contact sites. Rows of desmosomes are generated at these interfaces, the plasma membrane localization of cingulin and ZO-1, proteins that have been shown to be associated with tight junctions, is substantially increased, and cytokeratins coalesce into a cohesive intracellular network. Immunofluorescence patterns for the adherens junction proteins N-cadherin, alpha-catenin, and vinculin, and the desmosomal polypeptides desmoplakin, desmocollin, and desmoglein, are also markedly enhanced at the cell surface. Our data demonstrate that obligatory cell-cell adhesion, which in this case is initially brought about by the homophilic association of P(o) molecules across the intercellular cleft, triggers pronounced augmentation of the normally sluggish or sub-basal cell adhesion program in HeLa cells, culminating in suppression of the transformed state and reversion of the monolayer to an epithelioid phenotype. Furthermore, this response is apparently accompanied by an increase in mRNA and protein levels for desmoplakin and N-cadherin which are normally associated with epithelial junctions. Our conclusions are supported by analyses of ten proteins we examined immunochemically (P(o), cingulin, ZO-1, desmoplakin, desmoglein, desmocollin, N-cadherin, alpha-catenin, vinculin, and cytokeratin-18), and by quantitative polymerase chain reactions to measure relative amounts of desmoplakin and N-cadherin mRNAs. P(o) has no known signaling properties; the dramatic phenotypic changes we observed are highly likely to have developed in direct response to P(o)-induced cell adhesion. More generally, the ability of this "foreign" membrane adhesion protein to stimulate desmosome and adherens junction formation by augmenting well-studied cadherin-based adhesion mechanisms raises the possibility that perhaps any bona fide cell adhesion molecule, when functionally expressed, can engage common intracellular pathways and trigger reversion of a carcinoma to an epithelial-like phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2199992  PMID: 7593172
11.  Protein Kinase C Activation Upregulates Intercellular Adhesion of α-Catenin–negative Human Colon Cancer Cell Variants via Induction of Desmosomes 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1997;137(5):1103-1116.
The α-catenin molecule links E-cadherin/ β-catenin or E-cadherin/plakoglobin complexes to the actin cytoskeleton. We studied several invasive human colon carcinoma cell lines lacking α-catenin. They showed a solitary and rounded morphotype that correlated with increased invasiveness. These round cell variants acquired a more normal epithelial phenotype upon transfection with an α-catenin expression plasmid, but also upon treatment with the protein kinase C (PKC) activator 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA). Video registrations showed that the cells started to establish elaborated intercellular junctions within 30 min after addition of TPA. Interestingly, this normalizing TPA effect was not associated with α-catenin induction. Classical and confocal immunofluorescence showed only minor TPA-induced changes in E-cadherin staining. In contrast, desmosomal and tight junctional proteins were dramatically rearranged, with a conversion from cytoplasmic clusters to obvious concentration at cell–cell contacts and exposition at the exterior cell surface. Electron microscopical observations revealed the TPA-induced appearance of typical desmosomal plaques. TPA-restored cell–cell adhesion was E-cadherin dependent as demonstrated by a blocking antibody in a cell aggregation assay. Addition of an antibody against the extracellular part of desmoglein-2 blocked the TPA effect, too. Remarkably, the combination of anti–E-cadherin and anti-desmoglein antibodies synergistically inhibited the TPA effect.
Our studies show that it is possible to bypass the need for normal α-catenin expression to establish tight intercellular adhesion by epithelial cells. Apparently, the underlying mechanism comprises upregulation of desmosomes and tight junctions by activation of the PKC signaling pathway, whereas E-cadherin remains essential for basic cell–cell adhesion, even in the absence of α-catenin.
PMCID: PMC2136213  PMID: 9166410
12.  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
13.  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
14.  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
15.  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
16.  Sec3-containing Exocyst Complex Is Required for Desmosome Assembly in Mammalian Epithelial Cells 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2010;21(1):152-164.
In epithelial cells, Sec3 associates with Exocyst complexes enriched at desmosomes and centrosomes, distinct from Sec6/8 complexes at the apical junctional complex. RNAi-mediated suppression of Sec3 alters trafficking of desmosomal cadherins and impairs desmosome morphology and function, without noticeable effect on adherens junctions.
The Exocyst is a conserved multisubunit complex involved in the docking of post-Golgi transport vesicles to sites of membrane remodeling during cellular processes such as polarization, migration, and division. In mammalian epithelial cells, Exocyst complexes are recruited to nascent sites of cell–cell contact in response to E-cadherin–mediated adhesive interactions, and this event is an important early step in the assembly of intercellular junctions. Sec3 has been hypothesized to function as a spatial landmark for the development of polarity in budding yeast, but its role in epithelial cells has not been investigated. Here, we provide evidence in support of a function for a Sec3-containing Exocyst complex in the assembly or maintenance of desmosomes, adhesive junctions that link intermediate filament networks to sites of strong intercellular adhesion. We show that Sec3 associates with a subset of Exocyst complexes that are enriched at desmosomes. Moreover, we found that membrane recruitment of Sec3 is dependent on cadherin-mediated adhesion but occurs later than that of the known Exocyst components Sec6 and Sec8 that are recruited to adherens junctions. RNA interference-mediated suppression of Sec3 expression led to specific impairment of both the morphology and function of desmosomes, without noticeable effect on adherens junctions. These results suggest that two different exocyst complexes may function in basal–lateral membrane trafficking and will enable us to better understand how exocytosis is spatially organized during development of epithelial plasma membrane domains.
PMCID: PMC2801709  PMID: 19889837
17.  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
18.  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
19.  Cell-Cell Adhesions and Cell Contractility Are Upregulated upon Desmosome Disruption 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e101824.
Desmosomes are perturbed in a number of disease states – including genetic disorders, autoimmune and bacterial diseases. Here, we report unexpected changes in other cell-cell adhesion structures upon loss of desmosome function. We found that perturbation of desmosomes by either loss of the core desmosomal protein desmoplakin or treatment with pathogenic anti-desmoglein 3 (Dsg3) antibodies resulted in changes in adherens junctions consistent with increased tension. The total amount of myosin IIA was increased in desmoplakin-null epidermis, and myosin IIA became highly localized to cell contacts in both desmoplakin-null and anti-Dsg3-treated mouse keratinocytes. Inhibition of myosin II activity reversed the changes to adherens junctions seen upon desmosome disruption. The increased cortical myosin IIA promoted epithelial sheet fragility, as myosin IIA-null cells were less susceptible to disruption by anti-Dsg3 antibodies. In addition to the changes in adherens junctions, we found a significant increase in the expression of a number of claudin genes, which encode for transmembrane components of the tight junction that provide barrier function. These data demonstrate that desmosome disruption results in extensive transcriptional and posttranslational changes that alter the activity of other cell adhesion structures.
PMCID: PMC4090201  PMID: 25006807
20.  Identification of a basic protein of Mr 75,000 as an accessory desmosomal plaque protein in stratified and complex epithelia 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1988;106(5):1679-1691.
Desmosomes are intercellular adhering junctions characterized by a special structure and certain obligatory constituent proteins such as the cytoplasmic protein, desmoglein. Desmosomal fractions from bovine muzzle epidermis contain, in addition, a major polypeptide of Mr approximately 75,000 ("band 6 protein") which differs from all other desmosomal proteins so far identified by its positive charge (isoelectric at pH approximately 8.5 in the denatured state) and its avidity to bind certain type I cytokeratins under stringent conditions. We purified this protein from bovine muzzle epidermis and raised antibodies to it. Using affinity-purified antibodies, we identified a protein of identical SDS-PAGE mobility and isoelectric pH in all epithelia of higher complexity, including representatives of stratified, complex (pseudostratified) and transitional epithelia as well as benign and malignant human tumors derived from such epithelia. Immunolocalization studies revealed the location of this protein along cell boundaries in stratified and complex epithelia, often resolved into punctate arrays. In some epithelia it seemed to be restricted to certain cell types and layers; in rat cornea, for example, it was only detected in upper strata. Electron microscopic immunolocalization showed that this protein is a component of the desmosomal plaque. However, it was not found in the desmosomes of all simple epithelia examined, in the tumors and cultured cells derived thereof, in myocardiac and Purkinje fiber cells, in arachnoideal cells and meningiomas, and in dendritic reticulum cells of lymphoid tissue, i.e., all cells containing typical desmosomes. The protein was also absent in all nondesmosomal adhering junctions. From these results we conclude that this basic protein is not an obligatory desmosomal plaque constituent but an accessory component specific to the desmosomes of certain kinds of epithelial cells with stratified tissue architecture. This suggests that the Mr 75,000 basic protein does not serve general desmosomal functions but rather cell type-specific ones and that the composition of the desmosomal plaque can be different in different cell types. The possible diagnostic value of this protein as a marker in cell typing is discussed.
PMCID: PMC2115063  PMID: 3131348
21.  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
22.  Rearrangements of desmosomal and cytoskeletal proteins during the transition from epithelial to fibroblastoid organization in cultured rat bladder carcinoma cells 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1989;109(4):1495-1509.
Changes of cell morphology and the state of differentiation are known to play important roles in embryogenesis as well as in carcinogenesis. Examples of particularly profound changes are the conversions of epithelial to mesenchymal cells; i.e., the dissociation of some or all polygonal, polar epithelial cells and their transformation into elongate, fibroblastoid cells of high motility. As an in vitro model system for such changes in cell morphology, we have used cell cultures of the rat bladder carcinoma-derived cell line NBT-II which, on exposure to inducing medium containing a commercial serum substitute (Ultroser G), show an extensive change in their organization (epithelial-mesenchymal transition): the junctions between the epithelial cells are split, the epithelial cell organization is lost, and the resulting individual cells become motile and assume a spindle- like fibroblastoid appearance. Using immunofluorescence microscopy and biochemical protein characterization techniques, we show that this change is accompanied by a redistribution of desmosomal plaque proteins (desmoplakins, desmoglein, plakoglobin) and by a reorganization of the cytokeratin and the actin-fodrin filament systems. Moreover, intermediate-sized filaments of the vimentin type are formed in the fibroblastoid cells. We demonstrate that the modulation of desmosomal proteins, specifically an increase in soluble desmoplakins, is a relatively early event in cell dissociation and in epithelial- mesenchymal transition. In this process, a latent period of 5 h upon addition of inducing medium precedes the removal of these desmosomal components from the plasma membrane. The transition, which is reversible, is dependent on continued protein synthesis and phosphorylation but not on the presence of the inducing medium beyond the initial 2-h period. We discuss the value of this experimental system as a physiologically relevant approach for studying the regulation of the assembly and disassembly of desmosomes and other intercellular adhesion structures, and as a model of the conversion of cells from one state of differentiation into another.
PMCID: PMC2115780  PMID: 2677020
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.  Pemphigus vulgaris antigen, a desmoglein type of cadherin, is localized within keratinocyte desmosomes 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1993;122(2):409-415.
Pemphigus vulgaris antigen (PVA) is a member of the desmoglein subfamily of cadherin cell adhesion molecules. Because autoantibodies in this disease cause blisters due to loss of epidermal cell adhesion, and because desmoglein is found in the desmosome cell adhesion junction, we wanted to determine if PVA is also found in desmosomes. By immunofluorescence, PV IgG bound, in a dotted pattern, to the cell surface of cultured human keratinocytes induced to differentiate with calcium, suggesting junctional staining. However, by preembedding, immunogold electron microscopic studies only slight labeling could be detected in desmosomes, presumably because of difficulty in gold penetration of intact desmosomes. We therefore treated the keratinocytes with 0.01% trypsin in 1 mM calcium, conditions known to preserve cadherin antigenicity but that caused slight separation of desmosomes, before immunogold staining. In this case there was extensive labeling of the extracellular part of desmosomes but not of the interdesmosomal cell membrane which was stained with anti-beta 2- microglobulin antibodies. To confirm the specificity of this binding we showed that antibodies raised in rabbits against the extracellular portions of PVA also bound desmosomes in these cultures. In intact mouse epidermis we could also show slight, but specific, immunogold desmosomal labeling with PV IgG. Furthermore, neonatal mice injected with PV IgG affinity purified on PVA showed desmosomal separation with the IgG localized to desmosomal cores. These results indicate that PVA is organized and concentrated within the desmosome where it presumably functions to maintain the integrity of stratifying epithelia.
PMCID: PMC2119642  PMID: 8320263
25.  Mice expressing a mutant desmosomal cadherin exhibit abnormalities in desmosomes, proliferation, and epidermal differentiation 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1996;133(6):1367-1382.
Desmogleins are members of the cadherin superfamily which form the core of desmosomes. In vitro studies indicate that the cytoplasmic domain of desmogleins associates with plakoglobin; however, little is known about the role of this domain in desmosome recognition or assembly in vivo, or about the possible relation of desmoglein mutations to epidermal differentiation and disease. To address these questions we used transgenic mouse technology to produce an NH2-terminally truncated desmoglein (Pemphigus Vulgaris Antigen or Dsg3) in cells known to express its wild-type counterpart. Within 2 d, newborn transgenic animals displayed swelling of their paws, flakiness on their back, and blackening of the tail tip. When analyzed histologically and ultrastructurally, widening of intercellular spaces and disruption of desmosomes were especially striking in the paws and tail. Desmosomes were reduced dramatically in number and were smaller and often peculiar in structure. Immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy revealed no major abnormalities in localization of hemidesmosomal components, but desmosomal components organized aberrantly, resulting in a loss of ultrastructure within the plaque. In regions where desmosome loss was prevalent but where some adhesive structures persisted, the epidermis was thickened, with a marked increase in spinous and stratum corneum layers, variability in granular layer thickness, and parakeratosis in some regions. Intriguingly, a dramatic increase in cell proliferation was also observed concomitant with biochemical changes, including alterations in integrin expression, known to be associated with hyperproliferation. An inflammatory response was also detected in some skin regions. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that a mutation in a desmoglein can perturb epidermal cell-cell adhesion, triggering a cascade of changes in the skin.
PMCID: PMC2120897  PMID: 8682871

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