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1.  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
2.  Altered Desmosomal Proteins in Granulomatous Myocarditis and Potential Pathogenic Links to Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy 
Immunoreactive signal for the desmosomal protein plakoglobin (γ-catenin) is reduced at cardiac intercalated disks in patients with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a highly arrhythmogenic condition caused by mutations in genes encoding desmosomal proteins. Previously, we observed a “false positive” case in which plakoglobin signal was reduced in a patient initially thought to have ARVC but who actually had cardiac sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis can masquerade clinically as ARVC, but has not previously been associated with altered desmosomal proteins.
Methods and Results
We observed marked reduction in immunoreactive signal for plakoglobin at cardiac myocyte junctions in patients with sarcoidosis and giant cell myocarditis, both highly arrhythmogenic forms of myocarditis associated with granulomatous inflammation. In contrast, plakoglobin signal was not depressed in lymphocytic (non-granulomatous) myocarditis. To determine whether cytokines might promote dislocation of plakoglobin from desmosomes, we incubated cultures of neonatal rat ventricular myocytes with selected inflammatory mediators. Brief exposure to low concentrations of IL-17, TNFα and IL-6, cytokines implicated in granulomatous myocarditis, caused translocation of plakoglobin from cell-cell junctions to intracellular sites, whereas other potent cytokines implicated in non-granulomatous myocarditis had no effect, even at much high concentrations. We also observed myocardial expression of IL-17 and TNFα, and elevated serum levels of inflammatory mediators including IL-6R, IL-8, MCP1 and MIP1β in ARVC patients (all p<0.0001 compared with controls).
These results suggest novel disease mechanisms involving desmosomal proteins in granulomatous myocarditis and implicate cytokines, perhaps derived in part from the myocardium, in disruption of desmosomal proteins and arrhythmogenesis in ARVC.
PMCID: PMC3203520  PMID: 21859801
plakoglobin; desmosome; sarcoidosis; giant cell myocarditis; cytokines
3.  Cardiac Tissue-Restricted Deletion of Plakoglobin Results in Progressive Cardiomyopathy and Activation of β-Catenin Signaling▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2011;31(6):1134-1144.
Mutations in the plakoglobin (JUP) gene have been identified in arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) patients. However, the mechanisms underlying plakoglobin dysfunction involved in the pathogenesis of ARVC remain poorly understood. Plakoglobin is a component of both desmosomes and adherens junctions located at the intercalated disc (ICD) of cardiomyocytes, where it functions to link cadherins to the cytoskeleton. In addition, plakoglobin functions as a signaling protein via its ability to modulate the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway. To investigate the role of plakoglobin in ARVC, we generated an inducible cardiorestricted knockout (CKO) of the plakoglobin gene in mice. Plakoglobin CKO mice exhibited progressive loss of cardiac myocytes, extensive inflammatory infiltration, fibrous tissue replacement, and cardiac dysfunction similar to those of ARVC patients. Desmosomal proteins from the ICD were decreased, consistent with altered desmosome ultrastructure in plakoglobin CKO hearts. Despite gap junction remodeling, plakoglobin CKO hearts were refractory to induced arrhythmias. Ablation of plakoglobin caused increase β-catenin stabilization associated with activated AKT and inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase 3β. Finally, β-catenin/TCF transcriptional activity may contribute to the cardiac hypertrophy response in plakoglobin CKO mice. This novel model of ARVC demonstrates for the first time how plakoglobin affects β-catenin activity in the heart and its implications for disease pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3067899  PMID: 21245375
4.  Remodeling of the cardiac sodium channel, Connexin43 and Plakoglobin at the intercalated disk in patients with arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy 
Arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy (AC) is tightly associated with desmosomal mutations in the majority of patients. Arrhythmogenesis in AC patients is likely related to remodeling of cardiac gap junctions and increased levels of fibrosis. Recently, using experimental models, we also identified sodium channel dysfunction secondary to desmosomal dysfunction. The aim of the present study was to assess the immunoreactive signal levels of the sodium channel protein NaV1.5, as well as Connexin43 and Plakoglobin, in myocardial specimens obtained from AC patients.
Left and right ventricular free wall (LVFW/RVFW) post-mortem material was obtained from 5 AC patients and 5 age and sex-matched controls. RV septal biopsies (RVSB) were taken from another 15 AC patients. All patients fulfilled the 2010 revised Task Force Criteria for AC diagnosis. Immunohistochemical analyses were performed using antibodies against Connexin43 (Cx43), Plakoglobin, NaV1.5, Plakophilin-2 and N-Cadherin.
N-Cadherin and Desmoplakin immunoreactive signals and distribution were normal in AC patients compared to control. Plakophilin-2 signals were unaffected unless a PKP2 mutation predicting haploinsufficiency was present. Distribution was unchanged compared to control. Immunoreactive signal levels of PKG, Cx43 and NaV1.5 were disturbed in 74%, 70% and 65% of the patients, respectively.
Reduced immunoreactive signal of PKG, Cx43 and NaV1.5 at the intercalated disks can be observed in a large majority of the patients. Decreased levels of Nav1.5 might contribute to arrhythmia vulnerability and, in the future, potentially could serve as a new clinically relevant tool for risk assessment strategies.
PMCID: PMC3608196  PMID: 23178689
5.  Desmosomal Cadherins Are Decreased in Explanted Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia/Cardiomyopathy Patient Hearts 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e75082.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular Dysplasia/cardiomyopathy (ARVD/C) is an autosomal dominant inherited cardiomyopathy associated with ventricular arrhythmia, heart failure and sudden death. Genetic studies have demonstrated the central role of desmosomal proteins in this disease, where 50% of patients harbor a mutation in a desmosmal gene. However, clinical diagnosis of the disease remains difficult and molecular mechanisms appears heterogeneous and poorly understood. The aim of this study was to characterize the expression profile of desmosomal proteins in explanted ARVD/C heart samples, in order to identify common features of the disease.
Methods and Results
We examined plakophilin-2, desmoglein-2, desmocollin-2, plakoglobin and β-catenin protein expression levels from seven independent ARVD/C heart samples compared to two ischemic, five dilated cardiomyopathy and one healthy heart sample as controls. Ventricular and septum sections were examined by immunoblot analysis of total heart protein extracts and by immunostaining.
Immunoblots indicated significant decreases in desmoglein-2 and desmocollin-2, independent of any known underlying mutations, whereas immune-histochemical analysis showed normal localization of all desmosomal proteins. Quantitative RT-PCR revealed normal DSG2 and DSC2 mRNA transcript levels, suggesting increased protein turn-over rather than transcriptional down regulation.
Reduced cardiac desmoglein-2 and desmocollin-2 levels appear to be specifically associated with ARVD/C, independent of underlying mutations. These findings highlight a key role of desmosomal cadherins in the pathophysiology of ARVD/C. Whether these reductions could be considered as specific markers for ARVD/C requires replication analysis.
PMCID: PMC3781033  PMID: 24086444
6.  Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy is A Disease of Cardiac Stem Cells 
Current Opinion in Cardiology  2010;25(3):222-228.
To review recent developments in clinical aspects, molecular geneticsand pathogenesis of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).
Recent findings
ARVC is a primary disease of the myocardium characterized by fibro-adipocytic replacement of myocytes, predominantly in the right ventricle.
Phenotypic expression of ARVC is variable and a significant number of patients may exhibit a subtle phenotype, particularly in the early stages of the disease. Mutations in DSP, JUP, PKP2, DSG2 and DSC2; encoding desmosomal proteins desmoplakin (DP), plakoglobin (PG), plakophilin 2 (PKP2), desmoglein 2 (DSG2), and desmocollin 2 (DSC2), respectively, cause ARVC. Thus, ARVC, at least in a subset, is a disease of desmosomes. In addition, mutations in TMEM43 and TGFB1 have been associated with ARVC. Mechanistic studies indicate that suppressed canonical Wnt signaling, imposed by nuclear PG, is the responsible mechanism for the pathogenesis of ARVC. It leads to the differentiation of a subset of second heart field cardiac progenitor cells at the epicardium to adipocytes due to enhanced expression of adipogenic factors. This mechanism explains the predominant involvement of the right ventricle in ARVC. Hence, ARVC is the first identified disease of disrupted differentiation of cardiac progenitor cells.
Advances in molecular genetics and the pathogenesis of ARVC could afford the opportunity for a genetic-based diagnosis and development of novel diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets aimed to prevent, attenuate and reverse the evolving phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2980568  PMID: 20124997
Cardiomyopathy; Genetics; Sudden death; Heart failure; Stem cells
7.  Restrictive loss of plakoglobin in cardiomyocytes leads to arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;20(23):4582-4596.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is an inheritable myocardial disorder associated with fibrofatty replacement of myocardium and ventricular arrhythmia. A subset of ARVC is categorized as Naxos disease, which is characterized by ARVC and a cutaneous disorder. A homozygous loss-of-function mutation of the Plakoglobin (Jup) gene, which encodes a major component of the desmosome and the adherens junction, had been identified in Naxos patients, although the underlying mechanism remained elusive. We generated Jup mutant mice by ablating Jup in cardiomyocytes. Jup mutant mice largely recapitulated the clinical manifestation of human ARVC: ventricular dilation and aneurysm, cardiac fibrosis, cardiac dysfunction and spontaneous ventricular arrhythmias. Ultra-structural analyses revealed that desmosomes were absent in Jup mutant myocardia, whereas adherens junctions and gap junctions were preserved. We found that ventricular arrhythmias were associated with progressive cardiomyopathy and fibrosis in Jup mutant hearts. Massive cell death contributed to the cardiomyocyte dropout in Jup mutant hearts. Despite the increase of β-catenin at adherens junctions in Jup mutant cardiomyoicytes, the Wnt/β-catenin-mediated signaling was not altered. Transforming growth factor-beta-mediated signaling was found significantly elevated in Jup mutant cardiomyocytes at the early stage of cardiomyopathy, suggesting an important pathogenic pathway for Jup-related ARVC. These findings have provided further insights for the pathogenesis of ARVC and potential therapeutic interventions.
PMCID: PMC3209829  PMID: 21880664
8.  Mechanistic insights into arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy caused by desmocollin-2 mutations 
Cardiovascular Research  2010;90(1):77-87.
Recent immunohistochemical studies observed the loss of plakoglobin (PG) from the intercalated disc (ID) as a hallmark of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), suggesting a final common pathway for this disease. However, the underlying molecular processes are poorly understood.
Methods and results
We have identified novel mutations in the desmosomal cadherin desmocollin 2 (DSC2 R203C, L229X, T275M, and G371fsX378). The two missense mutations (DSC2 R203C and T275M) have been functionally characterized, together with a previously reported frameshift variant (DSC2 A897fsX900), to examine their pathogenic potential towards PG's functions at the ID. The three mutant proteins were transiently expressed in various cellular systems and assayed for expression, processing, localization, and binding to other desmosomal components in comparison to wild-type DSC2a protein. The two missense mutations showed defects in proteolytic cleavage, a process which is required for the functional activation of mature cadherins. In both cases, this is thought to cause a reduction of functional DSC2 at the desmosomes in cardiac cells. In contrast, the frameshift variant was incorporated into cardiac desmosomes; however, it showed reduced binding to PG.
Despite different modes of action, for all three variants, the reduced ability to provide a ligand for PG at the desmosomes was observed. This is in agreement with the reduced intensity of PG at these structures observed in ARVC patients.
PMCID: PMC3058729  PMID: 21062920
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy; Desmocollin-2; Desmosome; Functional studies; Mutation
9.  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
10.  Geographical distribution of plakophilin-2 mutation prevalence in patients with arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy 
Netherlands Heart Journal  2012;20(5):234-239.
Arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy (AC) is characterised by myocardial fibrofatty tissue infiltration and presents with palpitations, ventricular arrhythmias, syncope and sudden cardiac death. AC is associated with mutations in genes encoding the desmosomal proteins plakophilin-2 (PKP2), desmoplakin (DSP), desmoglein-2 (DSG2), desmocollin-2 (DSC2) and junctional plakoglobin (JUP). In the present study we compared 28 studies (2004–2011) on the prevalence of mutations in desmosomal protein encoding genes in relation to geographic distribution of the study population. In most populations, mutations in PKP2 showed the highest prevalence. Mutation prevalence in DSP, DSG2 and DSC2 varied among the different geographic regions. Mutations in JUP were rarely found, except in Denmark and the Greece/Cyprus region.
PMCID: PMC3346879  PMID: 22527912
Cardiomyopathy; Plakophilin-2; Mutation; Desmosome; Prevalence; Geography; Medicine & Public Health; Medicine/Public Health, general
11.  Loss of Cadherin-Binding Proteins β-Catenin and Plakoglobin in the Heart Leads to Gap Junction Remodeling and Arrhythmogenesis 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2012;32(6):1056-1067.
Arrhythmic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a hereditary heart muscle disease that causes sudden cardiac death (SCD) in young people. Almost half of ARVC patients have a mutation in genes encoding cell adhesion proteins of the desmosome, including plakoglobin (JUP). We previously reported that cardiac tissue-specific plakoglobin (PG) knockout (PG CKO) mice have no apparent conduction abnormality and survive longer than expected. Importantly, the PG homolog, β-catenin (CTNNB1), showed increased association with the gap junction protein connexin43 (Cx43) in PG CKO hearts. To determine whether β-catenin is required to maintain cardiac conduction in the absence of PG, we generated mice lacking both PG and β-catenin specifically in the heart (i.e., double knockout [DKO]). The DKO mice exhibited cardiomyopathy, fibrous tissue replacement, and conduction abnormalities resulting in SCD. Loss of the cadherin linker proteins resulted in dissolution of the intercalated disc (ICD) structure. Moreover, Cx43-containing gap junction plaques were reduced at the ICD, consistent with the arrhythmogenicity of the DKO hearts. Finally, ambulatory electrocardiogram monitoring captured the abrupt onset of spontaneous lethal ventricular arrhythmia in the DKO mice. In conclusion, these studies demonstrate that the N-cadherin-binding partners, PG and β-catenin, are indispensable for maintaining mechanoelectrical coupling in the heart.
PMCID: PMC3295003  PMID: 22252313
12.  Nuclear Plakoglobin Is Essential for Differentiation of Cardiac Progenitor Cells to Adipocytes in Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy 
Circulation research  2011;109(12):1342-1353.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a disease of desmosome proteins characterized by fibroadipogenesis in the myocardium. We have implicated signaling properties of junction protein plakoglobin (PG) in the pathogenesis of ARVC.
To delineate the pathogenic role of PG in adipogenesis in ARVC.
Methods and Results
We generated mice overexpressing PG, either a wildtype (PGWT) or a truncated (PGTR), known to cause ARVC, in the heart; and PG null (PG−/−) embryos. PGWT and PGTR mice exhibited fibro-adiposis, cardiac dysfunction, and premature death. Subcellular protein fractionation and immunofluorescence showed nuclear localization of PGWT and PGTR and reduced membrane localization of PGTR. Coimmunoprecipitation showed reduced binding of PGTR but not PGWT to desmosome proteins DSP and DSG2. Transgene PGWT and PGTR were expressed in c-Kit+:Sca1+ cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) isolated from the hearts of PGWT and PGTR by fluorescence activated cell sorting. CPCs isolated from the transgenic hearts showed enhanced adipogenesis, increased levels of adipogenic factors KLF15, C/EBP-α and noncanonical Wnt5b, and reduced level of CTGF, an inhibitor of adipogenesis. Treatment with BIO activated the canonical Wnt signaling, reversed the proadipogenic transcriptional switch and prevented adipogenesis in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, c-Kit+ CPCs, isolated from PG−/− embryos, were resistant to adipogenesis, expressed high mRNA levels of CTGF and other canonical Wnt signaling targets.
Nuclear PG provokes adipogenesis in c-Kit+ CPCs by repressing the canonical Wnt signaling and inducing a proadipogenic gene expression. The findings suggest that adipocytes in ARVC, at least in part, originate from c-Kit+ CPCs.
PMCID: PMC3237769  PMID: 22021931
cardiomyopathy; genetics; adipogenesis; Wnt signaling; progenitor cells
13.  Quantitative Immunohistochemistry of Desmosomal Proteins (Plakoglobin, Desmoplakin and Plakophilin), Connexin-43, and N-cadherin in Arrhythmogenic Cardiomyopathy: An Autopsy Study 
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a genetic disorder related to mutations in desmosomal proteins. The current study tests the hypothesis that immunohistochemical staining for desmosomal proteins is of diagnostic utility by studying autopsy-confirmed cases of ARVC.
Methods and Results:
We studied 23 hearts from patients dying suddenly with ARVC. Control subject tissues were 21 hearts from people dying from non-cardiac causes (n=15), dilated cardiomyopathy (n=3) and coronary artery disease (n=3).
Areas free of fibrofatty change or scarring were assessed on 50 sections from ARVC (24 left ventricle, 26 right ventricle) and 28 sections from controls. Immunohistochemical stains against plakoglobin, plakophilin, desmoplakin, connexin-43, and N-cadherin were applied and area expression analyzed by computerized morphometry. Desmin was stained as a control for fixation and similarly analyzed.
The mean area of desmin expression was similar in controls and ARVC (86% vs. 85%, p=0.6). Plakoglobin expression was 4.9% ± 0.3% in controls, vs. 4.6% ± 0.3% in ARVC (p=0.3). Plakophilin staining was 4.8% ± 0.3% in controls vs. 4.4% ± 03% in ARVC (p=0.3). Desmoplakin staining was 3.4% in controls vs. 3.2 ± 0.2% in ARVC (p=0.6). There were no significant differences when staining was compared between right and left ventricles (all p > 0.1).
For non-desmosomal proteins, the mean area of connexin-43 staining showed no significant difference by presence of disease.
The small and insignificant decrease in junction protein expression in ARVC suggests that immunohistochemistry is not a useful tool for the diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3680985  PMID: 23802019
ARVC; arrhytmogenic cardiomyopaty; sudden death; autopsy.
14.  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
15.  Mutations with pathogenic potential in proteins located in or at the composite junctions of the intercalated disk connecting mammalian cardiomyocytes: a reference thesaurus for arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathies and for Naxos and Carvajal diseases 
Cell and Tissue Research  2012;348(2):325-333.
In the past decade, an avalanche of findings and reports has correlated arrhythmogenic ventricular cardiomyopathies (ARVC) and Naxos and Carvajal diseases with certain mutations in protein constituents of the special junctions connecting the polar regions (intercalated disks) of mature mammalian cardiomyocytes. These molecules, apparently together with some specific cytoskeletal proteins, are components of (or interact with) composite junctions. Composite junctions contain the amalgamated fusion products of the molecules that, in other cell types and tissues, occur in distinct separate junctions, i.e. desmosomes and adherens junctions. As the pertinent literature is still in an expanding phase and is obviously becoming important for various groups of researchers in basic cell and molecular biology, developmental biology, histology, physiology, cardiology, pathology and genetics, the relevant references so far recognized have been collected and are presented here in the following order: desmocollin-2 (Dsc2, DSC2), desmoglein-2 (Dsg2, DSG2), desmoplakin (DP, DSP), plakoglobin (PG, JUP), plakophilin-2 (Pkp2, PKP2) and some non-desmosomal proteins such as transmembrane protein 43 (TMEM43), ryanodine receptor 2 (RYR2), desmin, lamins A and C, striatin, titin and transforming growth factor-β3 (TGFβ3), followed by a collection of animal models and of reviews, commentaries, collections and comparative studies.
PMCID: PMC3349860  PMID: 22450909
Arrhythmogenic ventricular cardiomyopathy; Carvajal disease; Composite junction; Desmosomes; Intercalated disk; Naxos disease
16.  Mechanistic Basis of Desmosome-Targeted Diseases 
Journal of Molecular Biology  2013;425(21):4006-4022.
Desmosomes are dynamic junctions between cells that maintain the structural integrity of skin and heart tissues by withstanding shear forces. Mutations in component genes cause life-threatening conditions including arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, and desmosomal proteins are targeted by pathogenic autoantibodies in skin blistering diseases such as pemphigus. Here, we review a set of newly discovered pathogenic alterations and discuss the structural repercussions of debilitating mutations on desmosomal proteins. The architectures of native desmosomal assemblies have been visualized by cryo-electron microscopy and cryo-electron tomography, and the network of protein domain interactions is becoming apparent. Plakophilin and desmoplakin mutations have been discovered to alter binding interfaces, structures, and stabilities of folded domains that have been resolved by X-ray crystallography and NMR spectroscopy. The flexibility within desmoplakin has been revealed by small-angle X-ray scattering and fluorescence assays, explaining how mechanical stresses are accommodated. These studies have shown that the structural and functional consequences of desmosomal mutations can now begin to be understood at multiple levels of spatial and temporal resolution. This review discusses the recent structural insights and raises the possibility of using modeling for mechanism-based diagnosis of how deleterious mutations alter the integrity of solid tissues.
Graphical Abstract
PMCID: PMC3807649  PMID: 23911551
ARVC, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy; DIFC, desmosome–intermediate filament complex; EC, extracellular cadherin; EGFR, epidermal growth factor receptor; IA, intracellular anchor; iPSC, induced pluripotent stem cell; ICS, intracellular cadherin-typical sequence; Lef, lymphoid enhancer factor; NMD, nonsense-mediated RNA decay; PPAR, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor; PRD, plakin repeat domain; SR, spectrin repeat; SH3, Src homology 3; Tcf, T-cell factor; desmosomal cadherin; desmoplakin; desmosome; arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy; plakoglobin
17.  Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, a cell adhesion cardiomyopathy: insights into disease pathogenesis from preliminary genotype—phenotype assessment 
Heart  2006;92(12):1720-1723.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia/cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a genetically determined heart muscle disorder presenting clinically with even lethal ventricular arrhythmias, particularly in the young and athletes. It is reported familial with recessive and most commonly dominant inheritance. Disease‐causing genes are increasingly recognised among desmosomal proteins plakoglobin, desmoplakin, plakophilin2, and desmoglein2 displaying phenotypic heterogeneity. Mutations in the plakoglobin and desmoplakin genes have been identified to underlie recessive ARVC associated with woolly hair and palmoplantar keratoderma (Naxos disease), while mutations in plakophilin2, desmoglein2 as well as desmoplakin have been identified to underlie the dominant non‐syndromic form. Preliminary genotype–phenotype assessment indicates that mutations affecting the outer dense plaque of desmosome (desmoglein2, plakoglobin, plakophilin2 and the N‐terminal of desmoplakin) result in ARVC with the ordinary described phenotype. However, mutations at the inner dense plaque, particularly affecting the desmin‐binding site of desmoplakin, may result in ARVC with predominantly left ventricular involvement and clinical overlapping with dilated cardiomyopathy. The interesting finding of abnormal distribution of plakoglobin, independently of the primarily affected protein, might suggest a common pathway for plakoglobin in ARVC pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1861281  PMID: 16698823
arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia/cardiomyopathy; Naxos disease; cell‐adhesions; desmosomal proteins; sudden death
18.  Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy/dysplasia 
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy/dysplasia (ARVC/D) is a heart muscle disease clinically characterized by life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias. Its prevalence has been estimated to vary from 1:2,500 to 1:5,000. ARVC/D is a major cause of sudden death in the young and athletes. The pathology consists of a genetically determined dystrophy of the right ventricular myocardium with fibro-fatty replacement to such an extent that it leads to right ventricular aneurysms. The clinical picture may include: a subclinical phase without symptoms and with ventricular fibrillation being the first presentation; an electrical disorder with palpitations and syncope, due to tachyarrhythmias of right ventricular origin; right ventricular or biventricular pump failure, so severe as to require transplantation. The causative genes encode proteins of mechanical cell junctions (plakoglobin, plakophilin, desmoglein, desmocollin, desmoplakin) and account for intercalated disk remodeling. Familiar occurrence with an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance and variable penetrance has been proven. Recessive variants associated with palmoplantar keratoderma and woolly hair have been also reported. Clinical diagnosis may be achieved by demonstrating functional and structural alterations of the right ventricle, depolarization and repolarization abnormalities, arrhythmias with the left bundle branch block morphology and fibro-fatty replacement through endomyocardial biopsy. Two dimensional echo, angiography and magnetic resonance are the imaging tools for visualizing structural-functional abnormalities. Electroanatomic mapping is able to detect areas of low voltage corresponding to myocardial atrophy with fibro-fatty replacement. The main differential diagnoses are idiopathic right ventricular outflow tract tachycardia, myocarditis, dialted cardiomyopathy and sarcoidosis. Only palliative therapy is available and consists of antiarrhythmic drugs, catheter ablation and implantable cardioverter defibrillator. Young age, family history of juvenile sudden death, QRS dispersion ≥ 40 ms, T-wave inversion, left ventricular involvement, ventricular tachycardia, syncope and previous cardiac arrest are the major risk factors for adverse prognosis. Preparticipation screening for sport eligibility has been proven to be effective in detecting asymptomatic patients and sport disqualification has been life-saving, substantially declining sudden death in young athletes.
PMCID: PMC2222049  PMID: 18001465
19.  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
20.  Novel missense mutations in exon 15 of desmoglein-2: Role of the intracellular cadherin segment in arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy? 
Heart Rhythm  2010;7(10):1446-1453.
The diagnosis of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy can be challenging. Disease-causing mutations in desmosomal genes have been identified. A novel diagnostic feature, loss of immunoreactivity for plakoglobin from the intercalated disks, recently was proposed.
The purpose of this study was to identify two novel mutations in the intracellular cadherin segment of desmoglein-2 (G812S and C813R in exon 15). Co-segregation of the G812S mutation with disease expression was established in a large Caucasian family. Endomyocardial biopsies of two individuals showed reduced plakoglobin signal at the intercalated disk.
To understand the pathologic changes occurring in the diseased myocardium, functional studies on three mutations in exon 15 of desmoglein-2 (G812C, G812S, C813R) were performed.
Localization studies failed to detect any differences in targeting or stability of the mutant proteins, suggesting that they act via a dominant negative mechanism. Binding assays were performed to probe for altered binding affinities toward other desmosomal proteins, such as plakoglobin and plakophilin-2. Although no differences were observed for the mutated proteins in comparison to wild-type desmoglein-2, binding to plakophilin-2 depended on the expression system (i.e., bacterial vs mammalian protein expression). In addition, abnormal migration of the C813R mutant protein was observed in gel electrophoresis.
Loss of plakoglobin immunoreactivity from the intercalated disks appears to be the endpoint of complex pathologic changes, and our functional data suggest that yet unknown posttranslational modifications of desmoglein-2 might be involved.
PMCID: PMC2994644  PMID: 20708101
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy; Desmoglein-2; Desmosome; Genetics; Missense mutation; Plakophilin-2; ARVC, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy; Cx43, connexin43; DSC2, desmocollin-2; DSG2, desmoglein-2; DSP, desmoplakin; GFP, green fluorescent protein; GST, glutathione-S-transferase; ICS, intracellular cadherin segment; PG, plakoglobin; PKP2, plakophilin-2; RV, right ventricle
21.  Suppression of canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling by nuclear plakoglobin recapitulates phenotype of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2006;116(7):2012-2021.
Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia/cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a genetic disease caused by mutations in desmosomal proteins. The phenotypic hallmark of ARVC is fibroadipocytic replacement of cardiac myocytes, which is a unique phenotype with a yet-to-be-defined molecular mechanism. We established atrial myocyte cell lines expressing siRNA against desmoplakin (DP), responsible for human ARVC. We show suppression of DP expression leads to nuclear localization of the desmosomal protein plakoglobin and a 2-fold reduction in canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling through Tcf/Lef1 transcription factors. The ensuing phenotype is increased expression of adipogenic and fibrogenic genes and accumulation of fat droplets. We further show that cardiac-restricted deletion of Dsp, encoding DP, impairs cardiac morphogenesis and leads to high embryonic lethality in the homozygous state. Heterozygous DP-deficient mice exhibited excess adipocytes and fibrosis in the myocardium, increased myocyte apoptosis, cardiac dysfunction, and ventricular arrhythmias, thus recapitulating the phenotype of human ARVC. We believe our results provide for a novel molecular mechanism for the pathogenesis of ARVC and establish cardiac-restricted DP-deficient mice as a model for human ARVC. These findings could provide for the opportunity to identify new diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets in patients with ARVC.
PMCID: PMC1483165  PMID: 16823493
22.  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
23.  Ultrastructural changes in cardiac myocytes from Boxer dogs with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy 
We sought to quantify the number and length of desmosomes, gap junctions, and adherens junctions in arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) and non-ARVC dogs, and to determine if ultrastructural changes existed.
Hearts from 8 boxer dogs afflicted with histopathologically confirmed ARVC and 6 dogs without ARVC were studied.
Quantitative transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and Western blot semi-quantification of α-actinin were used to study the intercalated disc and sarcomere of the right and left ventricles.
When ARVC dogs were compared to non-ARVC dogs reductions in the number of desmosomes (P = 0.04), adherens junctions (P = 0.04) and gap junctions (P = 0.02) were found. The number of gap junctions (P = 0.04) and adherens junctions (P = 0.04) also were reduced in the left ventricle, while the number of desmosomes was not (P = 0.88). A decrease in the length of desmosomal complexes within LV samples (P=0.04) was found. These findings suggested disruption of proteins providing attachment of the cytoskeleton to the intercalated disc. Immunoblotting did not demonstrate a quantitative reduction in the amount of α-actinin in ARVC afflicted samples. All boxers with ARVC demonstrated the presence of electron dense material originating from the Z band and extending into the sarcomere, apparently at the expense of the cytoskeletal structure.
These results emphasize the importance of structural integrity of the intercalated disc in the pathogenesis of ARVC. In addition, observed abnormalities in sarcomeric structure suggest a novel link between ARVC and the actin-myosin contractile apparatus.
PMCID: PMC3142699  PMID: 21636338
Canine; ARVC; Boxer; electron microscopy; desmosome; intercalated disc; cardiac ultrastructure
24.  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
25.  Altered patterns of cardiac intercellular junction distribution in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. 
Heart  1996;76(5):412-417.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the distribution pattern of intercellular junctions (the mechanically coupling desmosomes and the electrically coupling gap junctions) in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) hearts showing myofibre disarray. DESIGN: Samples from six necropsied hearts were studied, representing the interventricular septum and the free walls of the left and right ventricles. Immunohistochemical labelling of desmoplakin was used as a marker for desmosomes, and of connexin43 as a marker for gap junctions, in single and double stainings. The slides were examined by confocal laser scanning microscopy. RESULTS: Marked disorganisation of intercalated discs was observed in areas featuring myofibre disarray. Besides overall derangement, localised abnormalities in desmosome organisation were evident, which included: (1) the formation of abnormally enlarged megadiscs; (2) the presence of intersecting disc structures; and (3) aberrant side to side desmosomal connections. Gap junctional abnormalities included: (1) random distribution of gap junctions over the surface of myocytes, rather than localisation to intercalated discs; (2) abundant side to side gap junction connections between adjacent myocytes; and (3) formation of abnormally shaped gap junctions. Circles of myocytes continuously interconnected by gap junctions were also observed. Regions of the diseased hearts lacking myofibre disarray, and control hearts of normal patients and patients with other cardiac diseases, did not show these alterations. CONCLUSIONS: The disorganisation of the intercellular junctions associated with myofibre disarray in HCM may play an important role in the pathophysiological manifestations of the disease. The remodelling of gap junction distribution may underlie the formation of an arrhythmogenic substrate, thereby contributing to the generation and maintenance of cardiac arrhythmias associated with HCM.
PMCID: PMC484572  PMID: 8944586

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