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1.  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
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.  Structure, Function and Regulation of Desmosomes 
Desmosomes are adhesive intercellular junctions that mechanically integrate adjacent cells by coupling adhesive interactions mediated by desmosomal cadherins to the intermediate filament cytoskeletal network. Desmosomal cadherins are connected to intermediate filaments by densely clustered cytoplasmic plaque proteins comprising members of the armadillo gene family, including plakoglobin and plakophilins, and members of the plakin family of cytolinkers, such as desmoplakin. The importance of desmosomes in tissue integrity is highlighted by human diseases caused by mutations in desmosomal genes, autoantibody attack of desmosomal cadherins, and bacterial toxins that selectively target desmosomal cadherins. In addition to reviewing the well-known roles of desmosomal proteins in tissue integrity, this chapter also highlights the growing appreciation for how desmosomal proteins are integrated with cell signaling pathways to contribute to vertebrate tissue organization and differentiation.
PMCID: PMC4336551  PMID: 23481192
desmoglein; desmocollin; plakoglobin; desmoplakin; plakophilin; epidermis; cardiomyopathy; pemphigus
4.  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
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.  Defining the Interactions Between Intermediate Filaments and Desmosomes  
The Journal of Cell Biology  1998;141(5):1229-1241.
Desmoplakin (DP), plakoglobin (PG), and plakophilin 1 (PP1) are desmosomal components lacking a transmembrane domain, thus making them candidate linker proteins for connecting intermediate filaments and desmosomes. Using deletion and site-directed mutagenesis, we show that remarkably, removal of ∼1% of DP's sequence obliterates its ability to associate with desmosomes. Conversely, when linked to a foreign protein, as few as 86 NH2-terminal DP residues are sufficient to target to desmosomes efficiently. In in vitro overlay assays, the DP head specifically associates with itself and with desmocollin 1a (Dsc1a). In similar overlay assays, PP1 binds to DP and Dsc1a, and to a lesser extent, desmoglein 1 (Dsg1), while PG binds to Dsg1 and more weakly to Dsc1a and DP. Interestingly, like DP, PG and PP1 associate with epidermal keratins, although PG is considerably weaker in its ability to do so. As judged by overlay assays, the amino terminal head domain of type II keratins appears to have a special importance in establishing these connections. Taken together, our findings provide new insights into the complexities of the links between desmosomes and intermediate filaments (IFs). Our results suggest a model whereby at desmosome sites within dividing epidermal cells, DP and PG anchor to desmosomal cadherins and to each other, forming an ordered array of nontransmembrane proteins that then bind to keratin IFs. As epidermal cells differentiate, PP1 is added as a molecular reinforcement to the plaque, enhancing anchorage to IFs and accounting at least partially for the increase in numbers and stability of desmosomes in suprabasal cells.
PMCID: PMC2137181  PMID: 9606214
7.  Desmosome Assembly and Disassembly Are Membrane Raft-Dependent 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87809.
Strong intercellular adhesion is critical for tissues that experience mechanical stress, such as the skin and heart. Desmosomes provide adhesive strength to tissues by anchoring desmosomal cadherins of neighboring cells to the intermediate filament cytoskeleton. Alterations in assembly and disassembly compromise desmosome function and may contribute to human diseases, such as the autoimmune skin blistering disease pemphigus vulgaris (PV). We previously demonstrated that PV auto-antibodies directed against the desmosomal cadherin desmoglein 3 (Dsg3) cause loss of adhesion by triggering membrane raft-mediated Dsg3 endocytosis. We hypothesized that raft membrane microdomains play a broader role in desmosome homeostasis by regulating the dynamics of desmosome assembly and disassembly. In human keratinocytes, Dsg3 is raft associated as determined by biochemical and super resolution immunofluorescence microscopy methods. Cholesterol depletion, which disrupts rafts, prevented desmosome assembly and adhesion, thus functionally linking rafts to desmosome formation. Interestingly, Dsg3 did not associate with rafts in cells lacking desmosomal proteins. Additionally, PV IgG-induced desmosome disassembly occurred by redistribution of Dsg3 into raft-containing endocytic membrane domains, resulting in cholesterol-dependent loss of adhesion. These findings demonstrate that membrane rafts are required for desmosome assembly and disassembly dynamics, suggesting therapeutic potential for raft targeting agents in desmosomal diseases such as PV.
PMCID: PMC3907498  PMID: 24498201
8.  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
9.  The binding of plakoglobin to desmosomal cadherins: patterns of binding sites and topogenic potential 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1996;133(2):359-369.
Plakoglobin is the only protein that occurs in the cytoplasmic plaques of all known adhering junctions and has been shown to be crucially involved in the formation and maintenance of desmosomes anchoring intermediate-sized filaments (IFs) by its interaction with the desmosomal cadherins, desmoglein (Dsg), and desmocollin (Dsc). This topogenic importance of plakoglobin is now directly shown in living cells as well as in binding assays in vitro. We show that, in transfected human A-431 carcinoma cells, a chimeric protein combining the vesicle-forming transmembrane glycoprotein synaptophysin, with the complete human plakoglobin sequence, is sorted to small vesicles many of which associate with desmosomal plaques and their attached IFs. Immunoprecipitation experiments have further revealed that the chimeric plakoglobin-containing transmembrane molecules of these vesicles are tightly bound to Dsg and Dsc but not to endogenous plakoglobin, thus demonstrating that the binding of plakoglobin to desmosomal cadherins does not require its soluble state and is strong enough to attach large structures such as vesicles to desmosomes. To identify the binding domains and the mechanisms involved in the interaction of plakoglobin with desmosomal cadherins, we have developed direct binding assays in vitro in which plakoglobin or parts thereof, produced by recombinant DNA technology in E. coli, are exposed to molecules containing the "C- domains" of several cadherins. These assays have shown that plakoglobin associates most tightly with the C-domain of Dsg, to a lesser degree with that of Dsc and only weakly with the C-domain of E-cadherin. Three separate segments of plakoglobin containing various numbers of the so- called arm repeats exhibit distinct binding to the desmosomal cadherins comparable in strength to that of the entire molecule. The binding pattern of plakoglobin segments in vitro is compared with that in vivo. Paradoxically, in vitro some internal plakoglobin fragments bind even better to the C-domain of E-cadherin than the entire molecule, indicating that elements exist in native plakoglobin that interfere with the interaction of this protein with its various cadherin partners.
PMCID: PMC2120792  PMID: 8609168
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  Breaking the connection: displacement of the desmosomal plaque protein desmoplakin from cell-cell interfaces disrupts anchorage of intermediate filament bundles and alters intercellular junction assembly 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1996;134(4):985-1001.
The desmosomal plaque protein desmoplakin (DP), located at the juncture between the intermediate filament (IF) network and the cytoplasmic tails of the transmembrane desmosomal cadherins, has been proposed to link IF to the desmosomal plaque. Consistent with this hypothesis, previous studies of individual DP domains indicated that the DP COOH terminus associates with IF networks whereas NH2-terminal sequences govern the association of DP with the desmosomal plaque. Nevertheless, it had not yet been demonstrated that DP is required for attaching IF to the desmosome. To test this proposal directly, we generated A431 cell lines stably expressing DP NH2-terminal polypeptides, which were expected to compete with endogenous DP during desmosome assembly. As these polypeptides lacked the COOH-terminal IF-binding domain, this competition should result in the loss of IF anchorage if DP is required for linking IF to the desmosomal plaque. In such cells, a 70-kD DP NH2- terminal polypeptide (DP-NTP) colocalized at cell-cell interfaces with desmosomal proteins. As predicted, the distribution of endogenous DP was severely perturbed. At cell-cell borders where endogenous DP was undetectable by immunofluorescence, there was a striking absence of attached tonofibrils (IF bundles). Furthermore, DP-NTP assembled into ultrastructurally identifiable junctional structures lacking associated IF bundles. Surprisingly, immunofluorescence and immunogold electron microscopy indicated that adherens junction components were coassembled into these structures along with desmosomal components and DP-NTP. These results indicate that DP is required for anchoring IF networks to desmosomes and furthermore suggest that the DP-IF complex is important for governing the normal spatial segregation of adhesive junction components during their assembly into distinct structures.
PMCID: PMC2120955  PMID: 8769422
14.  The Function of Plakophilin 1 in Desmosome Assembly and Actin Filament Organization 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2000;149(1):209-222.
Plakophilin 1, a member of the armadillo multigene family, is a protein with dual localization in the nucleus and in desmosomes. To elucidate its role in desmosome assembly and regulation, we have analyzed its localization and binding partners in vivo. When overexpressed in HaCaT keratinocytes, plakophilin 1 localized to the nucleus and to desmosomes, and dramatically enhanced the recruitment of desmosomal proteins to the plasma membrane. This effect was mediated by plakophilin 1's head domain, which interacted with desmoglein 1, desmoplakin, and keratins in the yeast two-hybrid system. Overexpression of the armadillo repeat domain induced a striking dominant negative phenotype with the formation of filopodia and long cellular protrusions, where plakophilin 1 colocalized with actin filaments. This phenotype was strictly dependent on a conserved motif in the center of the armadillo repeat domain. Our results demonstrate that plakophilin 1 contains two functionally distinct domains: the head domain, which could play a role in organizing the desmosomal plaque in suprabasal cells, and the armadillo repeat domain, which might be involved in regulating the dynamics of the actin cytoskeleton.
PMCID: PMC2175088  PMID: 10747098
keratinocytes; desmoglein; armadillo; cell adhesion; cell motility
15.  Organization of desmosomal plaque proteins in cells growing at low calcium concentrations 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1988;107(3):1049-1063.
Desmosomes are not formed in epithelial cell cultures growing in media with low (less than or equal to 0.1 mM) concentrations of Ca2+ (LCM) but appear rapidly upon shift to media of normal calcium concentrations (NCM). Previous authors using immunolocalization of desmoplakin, a marker protein for the desmosomal plaque, in LCM-grown cells have interpreted positively stained, dense, cytoplasmic aggregates on intermediate filaments (IF) bundles as preformed plaque units which upon NCM shift would move to the plasma membrane and contribute to desmosome formation. Studying various cell cultures, including primary mouse keratinocytes and human A-431 cells, we show that most, probably all, desmoplakin-positive aggregates in LCM-grown cells are associated with membranous structures, mostly vesicles, and also contain other desmosomal markers, including desmoglein, a transmembrane glycoprotein. We interpret such vesicles as residual desmosome-derived domains endocytosed upon cell dissociation. Only keratinocytes grown for long times (2-4 wk) in LCM are practically free from such vesicles. In addition, we demonstrate that certain cells such as A-431 cells, when passaged in LCM and in the absence of stable junctions, are able to continually assemble "half-desmosomes" on the plasma membrane which in turn can be endocytosed as plaque-bearing vesicles. We also show that in LCM the synthesis of several desmosomal proteins (desmoplakins I and II, plakoglobin, desmoglein, "band 6 protein") continues and that most of the plaque protein, desmoplakin, is diffusely spread over the cytoplasm, apparently in a soluble monodisperse form of approximately 9S. From our results we propose that the plaque proteins occur in small, discrete, diffusible entities in the cytoplasm, in concentrations that are relatively high in LCM and low in NCM, from which they assemble directly, i.e., without intermediate precursor aggregates on IFs in the cytoplasm, on certain plasma membrane domains in a Ca2+ dependent process.
PMCID: PMC2115290  PMID: 2458360
16.  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
17.  Assessment of Splice Variant-Specific Functions of Desmocollin 1 in the Skin 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(1):154-163.
Desmocollin 1 (Dsc1) is part of a desmosomal cell adhesion receptor formed in terminally differentiating keratinocytes of stratified epithelia. The dsc1 gene encodes two proteins (Dsc1a and Dsc1b) that differ only with respect to their COOH-terminal cytoplasmic amino acid sequences. On the basis of in vitro experiments, it is thought that the Dsc1a variant is essential for assembly of the desmosomal plaque, a structure that connects desmosomes to the intermediate filament cytoskeleton of epithelial cells. We have generated mice that synthesize a truncated Dsc1 receptor that lacks both the Dsc1a- and Dsc1b-specific COOH-terminal domains. This mutant transmembrane receptor, which does not bind the common desmosomal plaque proteins plakoglobin and plakophilin 1, is integrated into functional desmosomes. Interestingly, our mutant mice did not show the epidermal fragility previously observed in dsc1-null mice. This suggests that neither the Dsc1a- nor the Dsc1b-specific COOH-terminal cytoplasmic domain is required for establishing and maintaining desmosomal adhesion. However, a comparison of our mutants with dsc1-null mice suggests that the Dsc1 extracellular domain is necessary to maintain structural integrity of the skin.
PMCID: PMC303333  PMID: 14673151
18.  Plakophilin-1 protects keratinocytes from pemphigus vulgaris IgG by forming calcium-independent desmosomes 
Plakophilin-1 (PKP-1) is an armadillo family protein critical for desmosomal adhesion and epidermal integrity. In the autoimmune skin blistering disease pemphigus vulgaris (PV), autoantibodies (IgG) target the desmosomal cadherin desmoglein 3 (Dsg3) and compromise keratinocyte cell-cell adhesion. Here, we report that enhanced expression of PKP-1 protects keratinocytes from PV IgG-induced loss of cell-cell adhesion. PKP-1 prevents loss of Dsg3 and other desmosomal proteins from cell-cell borders and prevents alterations in desmosome ultrastructure in keratinocytes treated with PV IgG. Using a series of Dsg3 chimeras and deletion constructs, we find that PKP-1 clusters Dsg3 with the desmosomal plaque protein desmoplakin in a manner dependent upon the plakoglobin binding domain of the Dsg3 tail. Furthermore, PKP-1 expression transforms desmosome adhesion from a calcium-dependent to a calcium-independent and hyper-adhesive state. These results demonstrate that manipulating the expression of a single desmosomal plaque protein can block the pathogenic effects of PV IgG on keratinocyte adhesion.
PMCID: PMC3961504  PMID: 24056861
19.  Desmoglein 3: A Help or a Hindrance in Cancer Progression? 
Cancers  2015;7(1):266-286.
Desmoglein 3 is one of seven desmosomal cadherins that mediate cell-cell adhesion in desmosomes. Desmosomes are the intercellular junctional complexes that anchor the intermediate filaments of adjacent cells and confer strong cell adhesion thus are essential in the maintenance of tissue architecture and structural integrity. Like adherens junctions, desmosomes function as tumour suppressors and are down regulated in the process of epithelial-mesenchymal transition and in tumour cell invasion and metastasis. However, recently several studies have shown that various desmosomal components, including desmoglein 3, are up-regulated in cancer with increased levels of expression correlating with the clinical stage of malignancy, implicating their potentiality to serve as a diagnostic and prognostic marker. Furthermore, in vitro studies have demonstrated that overexpression of desmoglein 3 in cancer cell lines activates several signal pathways that have an impact on cell morphology, adhesion and locomotion. These additional signalling roles of desmoglein 3 may not be associated to its adhesive function in desmosomes but rather function outside of the junctions, acting as a key regulator in the control of actin based cellular processes. This review will discuss recent advances which support the role of desmoglein 3 in cancer progression.
PMCID: PMC4381258  PMID: 25629808
desmoglein 3; cell signalling; desmosomes; cell-cell adhesion; squamous cell carcinoma; cancer biomarker; cancer progression; cancer suppression; metastasis
20.  Lis1 is essential for cortical microtubule organization and desmosome stability in the epidermis 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2011;194(4):631-642.
Desmoplakin recruits the centrosomal protein Lis1 to the epidermal cell cortex, where it regulates cortical microtubule organization and desmosome stability.
Desmosomes are cell–cell adhesion structures that integrate cytoskeletal networks. In addition to binding intermediate filaments, the desmosomal protein desmoplakin (DP) regulates microtubule reorganization in the epidermis. In this paper, we identify a specific subset of centrosomal proteins that are recruited to the cell cortex by DP upon epidermal differentiation. These include Lis1 and Ndel1, which are centrosomal proteins that regulate microtubule organization and anchoring in other cell types. This recruitment was mediated by a region of DP specific to a single isoform, DPI. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the epidermal-specific loss of Lis1 results in dramatic defects in microtubule reorganization. Lis1 ablation also causes desmosomal defects, characterized by decreased levels of desmosomal components, decreased attachment of keratin filaments, and increased turnover of desmosomal proteins at the cell cortex. This contributes to loss of epidermal barrier activity, resulting in completely penetrant perinatal lethality. This work reveals essential desmosome-associated components that control cortical microtubule organization and unexpected roles for centrosomal proteins in epidermal function.
PMCID: PMC3160577  PMID: 21844209
21.  Direct Ca2+-dependent Heterophilic Interaction between Desmosomal Cadherins, Desmoglein and Desmocollin, Contributes to Cell–Cell Adhesion 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1997;138(1):193-201.
Human fibrosarcoma cells, HT-1080, feature extensive adherens junctions, lack mature desmosomes, and express a single known desmosomal protein, Desmoglein 2 (Dsg2). Transfection of these cells with bovine Desmocollin 1a (Dsc1a) caused dramatic changes in the subcellular distribution of endogenous Dsg2. Both cadherins clustered in the areas of the adherens junctions, whereas only a minor portion of Dsg2 was seen in these areas in the parental cells. Deletion mapping showed that intact extracellular cadherin-like repeats of Dsc1a (Arg1-Thr170) are required for the translocation of Dsg2. Deletion of the intracellular C-domain that mediates the interaction of Dsc1a with plakoglobin, or the CSI region that is involved in the binding to desmoplakin, had no effect. Coimmunoprecipitation experiments of cell lysates stably expressing Dsc1a with anti-Dsc or -Dsg antibodies demonstrate that the desmosomal cadherins, Dsg2 and Dsc1a, are involved in a direct Ca2+-dependent interaction. This conclusion was further supported by the results of solid phase binding experiments. These showed that the Dsc1a fragment containing cadherin-like repeats 1 and 2 binds directly to the extracellular portion of Dsg in a Ca2+-dependent manner. The contribution of the Dsg/ Dsc interaction to cell–cell adhesion was tested by coculturing HT-1080 cells expressing Dsc1a with HT-1080 cells lacking Dsc but expressing myc-tagged plakoglobin (MPg). In the latter cells, MPg and the endogenous Dsg form stable complexes. The observed specific coimmunoprecipitation of MPg by anti-Dsc antibodies in coculture indicates that an intercellular interaction between Dsc1 and Dsg is involved in cell–cell adhesion.
PMCID: PMC2139935  PMID: 9214392
22.  Compound and Digenic Heterozygosity Contributes to Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy 
To define the genetic basis of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), characterized by right ventricular fibrofatty replacement and arrhythmias, causes sudden death. Autosomal dominant Inheritance, reduced penetrance, and 7 desmosome-encoding causative genes are known. The basis of low penetrance is poorly understood.
ARVC probands and family members were enrolled, blood obtained, lymphoblastoid cell lines immortalized, DNA extracted, PCR amplification of desmosome-encoding genes performed, PCR products sequenced and diseased tissue samples studied for intercellular junction protein distribution using confocal immunofluorescence microscopy and antibodies against key proteins.
We identified 21 variants in plakophilin-2 (PKP2) in 38 of 198 probands (19%), including missense, nonsense, splice site, and deletion/insertion mutations. Pedigrees showed wide intra-familial variability (severe early-onset disease to asymptomatic individuals). In 9/38 probands, PKP2 variants were identified that were encoded in trans (compound heterozygosity). The 38 probands hosting PKP2 variants were screened for other desmosomal genes mutations; second variants (digenic heterozygosity) were identified in 16/38 subjects with PKP2 variants (42%) including desmoplakin (DSP, n=6), desmoglein-2 (DSG2, n=5), plakophilin-4 (PKP4, n=1), and desmocollin-2 (DSC2, n=1). Heterozygous mutations in non-PKP 2desmosomal genes occurred in 14/198 subjects (7%), including DSP (n=4), DSG2 (n=5), DSC2 (n=3), and junctional plakoglobin (JUP, n=2). All variants occurred in conserved regions; none were identified in 700 ethnic-matched controls.
Immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated abnormalities of protein architecture.
These data suggest that the genetic basis of ARVC includes reduced penetrance with compound and digenic heterozygosity. Disturbed junctional cytoarchitecture in subjects with desmosomal mutations confirms that ARVC is a disease of the desmosome and cell junction.
PMCID: PMC2852685  PMID: 20152563
Arrhythmias; Cardiomyopathies; Desmosomes; Intercalated Disks; Genetic Mutations
23.  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
24.  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
25.  Desmoplakin Is Required Early in Development for Assembly of Desmosomes and Cytoskeletal Linkage  
The Journal of Cell Biology  1998;143(7):2009-2022.
Desmosomes first assemble in the E3.5 mouse trophectoderm, concomitant with establishment of epithelial polarity and appearance of a blastocoel cavity. Throughout development, they increase in size and number and are especially abundant in epidermis and heart muscle. Desmosomes mediate cell–cell adhesion through desmosomal cadherins, which differ from classical cadherins in their attachments to intermediate filaments (IFs), rather than actin filaments. Of the proteins implicated in making this IF connection, only desmoplakin (DP) is both exclusive to and ubiquitous among desmosomes. To explore its function and importance to tissue integrity, we ablated the desmoplakin gene. Homozygous −/− mutant embryos proceeded through implantation, but did not survive beyond E6.5. Mutant embryos proceeded through implantation, but did not survive beyond E6.5. Surprisingly, analysis of these embryos revealed a critical role for desmoplakin not only in anchoring IFs to desmosomes, but also in desmosome assembly and/or stabilization. This finding not only unveiled a new function for desmoplakin, but also provided the first opportunity to explore desmosome function during embryogenesis. While a blastocoel cavity formed and epithelial cell polarity was at least partially established in the DP (−/−) embryos, the paucity of desmosomal cell–cell junctions severely affected the modeling of tissue architecture and shaping of the early embryo.
PMCID: PMC2175222  PMID: 9864371
desmoplakin; desmosomes; cadherins; embryonic lethal; knockout

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