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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.  Desmosomal Molecules In and Out of Adhering Junctions: Normal and Diseased States of Epidermal, Cardiac and Mesenchymally Derived Cells 
Current cell biology textbooks mention only two kinds of cell-to-cell adhering junctions coated with the cytoplasmic plaques: the desmosomes (maculae adhaerentes), anchoring intermediate-sized filaments (IFs), and the actin microfilament-anchoring adherens junctions (AJs), including both punctate (puncta adhaerentia) and elongate (fasciae adhaerentes) structures. In addition, however, a series of other junction types has been identified and characterized which contain desmosomal molecules but do not fit the definition of desmosomes. Of these special cell-cell junctions containing desmosomal glycoproteins or proteins we review the composite junctions (areae compositae) connecting the cardiomyocytes of mature mammalian hearts and their importance in relation to human arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathies. We also emphasize the various plakophilin-2-positive plaques in AJs (coniunctiones adhaerentes) connecting proliferatively active mesenchymally-derived cells, including interstitial cells of the heart and several soft tissue tumor cell types. Moreover, desmoplakin has also been recognized as a constituent of the plaques of the complexus adhaerentes connecting certain lymphatic endothelial cells. Finally, we emphasize the occurrence of the desmosomal transmembrane glycoprotein, desmoglein Dsg2, out of the context of any junction as dispersed cell surface molecules in certain types of melanoma cells and melanocytes. This broadening of our knowledge on the diversity of AJ structures indicates that it may still be too premature to close the textbook chapters on cell-cell junctions.
PMCID: PMC2909724  PMID: 20671973
3.  The cell–cell junctions of mammalian testes: I. The adhering junctions of the seminiferous epithelium represent special differentiation structures 
Cell and Tissue Research  2014;357(3):645-665.
The seminiferous tubules and the excurrent ducts of the mammalian testis are physiologically separated from the mesenchymal tissues and the blood and lymph system by a special structural barrier to paracellular translocations of molecules and particles: the “blood–testis barrier”, formed by junctions connecting Sertoli cells with each other and with spermatogonial cells. In combined biochemical as well as light and electron microscopical studies we systematically determine the molecules located in the adhering junctions of adult mammalian (human, bovine, porcine, murine, i.e., rat and mouse) testis. We show that the seminiferous epithelium does not contain desmosomes, or “desmosome-like” junctions, nor any of the desmosome-specific marker molecules and that the adhering junctions of tubules and ductules are fundamentally different. While the ductules contain classical epithelial cell layers with E-cadherin-based adherens junctions (AJs) and typical desmosomes, the Sertoli cells of the tubules lack desmosomes and “desmosome-like” junctions but are connected by morphologically different forms of AJs. These junctions are based on N-cadherin anchored in cytoplasmic plaques, which in some subforms appear thick and dense but in other subforms contain only scarce and loosely arranged plaque structures formed by α- and β-catenin, proteins p120, p0071 and plakoglobin, together with a member of the striatin family and also, in rodents, the proteins ZO-1 and myozap. These N-cadherin-based AJs also include two novel types of junctions: the “areae adhaerentes”, i.e., variously-sized, often very large cell-cell contacts and small sieve-plate-like AJs perforated by cytoplasm-to-cytoplasm channels of 5–7 nm internal diameter (“cribelliform junctions”). We emphasize the unique character of this epithelium that totally lacks major epithelial marker molecules and structures such as keratin filaments and desmosomal elements as well as EpCAM- and PERP-containing junctions. We also discuss the nature, development and possible functions of these junctions.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00441-014-1906-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4148596  PMID: 24907851
Adherens junction; Desmosomes; Sertoli cells; Seminiferous tubules; Areae adhaerentes; Cribelliform junctions
4.  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
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.  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
7.  Loss of the p53/p63 Regulated Desmosomal Protein Perp Promotes Tumorigenesis 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001168.
Dysregulated cell–cell adhesion plays a critical role in epithelial cancer development. Studies of human and mouse cancers have indicated that loss of adhesion complexes known as adherens junctions contributes to tumor progression and metastasis. In contrast, little is known regarding the role of the related cell–cell adhesion junction, the desmosome, during cancer development. Studies analyzing expression of desmosome components during human cancer progression have yielded conflicting results, and therefore genetic studies using knockout mice to examine the functional consequence of desmosome inactivation for tumorigenesis are essential for elucidating the role of desmosomes in cancer development. Here, we investigate the consequences of desmosome loss for carcinogenesis by analyzing conditional knockout mice lacking Perp, a p53/p63 regulated gene that encodes an important component of desmosomes. Analysis of Perp-deficient mice in a UVB-induced squamous cell skin carcinoma model reveals that Perp ablation promotes both tumor initiation and progression. Tumor development is associated with inactivation of both of Perp's known functions, in apoptosis and cell–cell adhesion. Interestingly, Perp-deficient tumors exhibit widespread downregulation of desmosomal constituents while adherens junctions remain intact, suggesting that desmosome loss is a specific event important for tumorigenesis rather than a reflection of a general change in differentiation status. Similarly, human squamous cell carcinomas display loss of PERP expression with retention of adherens junctions components, indicating that this is a relevant stage of human cancer development. Using gene expression profiling, we show further that Perp loss induces a set of inflammation-related genes that could stimulate tumorigenesis. Together, these studies suggest that Perp-deficiency promotes cancer by enhancing cell survival, desmosome loss, and inflammation, and they highlight a fundamental role for Perp and desmosomes in tumor suppression. An understanding of the factors affecting cancer progression is important for ultimately improving the diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment of cancer.
Author Summary
Changes in tissue architecture, such as loss of adhesion between cells, have been shown to facilitate cancer development, especially metastasis where cells can detach from a tumor and spread throughout the body. While various studies have demonstrated that inactivation of an adhesion complex known as the adherens junction promotes cancer development and metastasis, little is known about the role of the desmosome—a related cell–cell adhesion complex—in tumorigenesis. Here we examine the consequence of desmosome-deficiency for tumor development by studying mice lacking a key component of desmosomes in the skin, a protein known as Perp. Using a mouse model for human skin cancer, in which ultraviolet light promotes skin cancer development, we demonstrate that Perp-deficiency indeed leads to accelerated skin tumorigenesis. We similarly observe that PERP is lost during human skin cancer development, suggesting that PERP is also important as a tumor suppressor in humans. These findings demonstrate that desmosome-deficiency achieved by Perp inactivation can promote cancer and suggest the potential utility of monitoring PERP status for staging, prognostication, or treatment of human cancers.
PMCID: PMC2958815  PMID: 20975948
8.  Plakophilin-2: a cell-cell adhesion plaque molecule of selective and fundamental importance in cardiac functions and tumor cell growth 
Cell and Tissue Research  2012;348(2):281-294.
Within the characteristic ensemble of desmosomal plaque proteins, the armadillo protein plakophilin-2 (Pkp2) is known as a particularly important regulatory component in the cytoplasmic plaques of various other cell–cell junctions, such as the composite junctions (areae compositae) of the myocardiac intercalated disks and in the variously-sized and -shaped complex junctions of permanent cell culture lines derived therefrom. In addition, Pkp2 has been detected in certain protein complexes in the nucleoplasm of diverse kinds of cells. Using a novel set of highly sensitive and specific antibodies, both kinds of Pkp2, the junctional plaque-bound and the nuclear ones, can also be localized to the cytoplasmic plaques of diverse non-desmosomal cell–cell junction structures. These are not only the puncta adhaerentia and the fasciae adhaerentes connecting various types of highly proliferative non-epithelial cells growing in culture but also some very proliferative states of cardiac interstitial cells and cardiac myxomata, including tumors growing in situ as well as fetal stages of heart development and cultures of valvular interstitial cells. Possible functions and assembly mechanisms of such Pkp2-positive cell–cell junctions as well as medical consequences are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3349858  PMID: 22281687
Adherens junctions; Myxomata; Cardiac tumors; Nuclear plakophilins; Plakophilin-2
9.  Identification of a basic protein of Mr 75,000 as an accessory desmosomal plaque protein in stratified and complex epithelia 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1988;106(5):1679-1691.
Desmosomes are intercellular adhering junctions characterized by a special structure and certain obligatory constituent proteins such as the cytoplasmic protein, desmoglein. Desmosomal fractions from bovine muzzle epidermis contain, in addition, a major polypeptide of Mr approximately 75,000 ("band 6 protein") which differs from all other desmosomal proteins so far identified by its positive charge (isoelectric at pH approximately 8.5 in the denatured state) and its avidity to bind certain type I cytokeratins under stringent conditions. We purified this protein from bovine muzzle epidermis and raised antibodies to it. Using affinity-purified antibodies, we identified a protein of identical SDS-PAGE mobility and isoelectric pH in all epithelia of higher complexity, including representatives of stratified, complex (pseudostratified) and transitional epithelia as well as benign and malignant human tumors derived from such epithelia. Immunolocalization studies revealed the location of this protein along cell boundaries in stratified and complex epithelia, often resolved into punctate arrays. In some epithelia it seemed to be restricted to certain cell types and layers; in rat cornea, for example, it was only detected in upper strata. Electron microscopic immunolocalization showed that this protein is a component of the desmosomal plaque. However, it was not found in the desmosomes of all simple epithelia examined, in the tumors and cultured cells derived thereof, in myocardiac and Purkinje fiber cells, in arachnoideal cells and meningiomas, and in dendritic reticulum cells of lymphoid tissue, i.e., all cells containing typical desmosomes. The protein was also absent in all nondesmosomal adhering junctions. From these results we conclude that this basic protein is not an obligatory desmosomal plaque constituent but an accessory component specific to the desmosomes of certain kinds of epithelial cells with stratified tissue architecture. This suggests that the Mr 75,000 basic protein does not serve general desmosomal functions but rather cell type-specific ones and that the composition of the desmosomal plaque can be different in different cell types. The possible diagnostic value of this protein as a marker in cell typing is discussed.
PMCID: PMC2115063  PMID: 3131348
10.  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
11.  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
12.  Sec3-containing Exocyst Complex Is Required for Desmosome Assembly in Mammalian Epithelial Cells 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2010;21(1):152-164.
In epithelial cells, Sec3 associates with Exocyst complexes enriched at desmosomes and centrosomes, distinct from Sec6/8 complexes at the apical junctional complex. RNAi-mediated suppression of Sec3 alters trafficking of desmosomal cadherins and impairs desmosome morphology and function, without noticeable effect on adherens junctions.
The Exocyst is a conserved multisubunit complex involved in the docking of post-Golgi transport vesicles to sites of membrane remodeling during cellular processes such as polarization, migration, and division. In mammalian epithelial cells, Exocyst complexes are recruited to nascent sites of cell–cell contact in response to E-cadherin–mediated adhesive interactions, and this event is an important early step in the assembly of intercellular junctions. Sec3 has been hypothesized to function as a spatial landmark for the development of polarity in budding yeast, but its role in epithelial cells has not been investigated. Here, we provide evidence in support of a function for a Sec3-containing Exocyst complex in the assembly or maintenance of desmosomes, adhesive junctions that link intermediate filament networks to sites of strong intercellular adhesion. We show that Sec3 associates with a subset of Exocyst complexes that are enriched at desmosomes. Moreover, we found that membrane recruitment of Sec3 is dependent on cadherin-mediated adhesion but occurs later than that of the known Exocyst components Sec6 and Sec8 that are recruited to adherens junctions. RNA interference-mediated suppression of Sec3 expression led to specific impairment of both the morphology and function of desmosomes, without noticeable effect on adherens junctions. These results suggest that two different exocyst complexes may function in basal–lateral membrane trafficking and will enable us to better understand how exocytosis is spatially organized during development of epithelial plasma membrane domains.
PMCID: PMC2801709  PMID: 19889837
13.  Assembly of the Cardiac Intercalated Disk during Pre- and Postnatal Development of the Human Heart 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94722.
In cardiac muscle, the intercalated disk (ID) at the longitudinal cell-edges of cardiomyocytes provides as a macromolecular infrastructure that integrates mechanical and electrical coupling within the heart. Pathophysiological disturbance in composition of this complex is well known to trigger cardiac arrhythmias and pump failure. The mechanisms underlying assembly of this important cellular domain in human heart is currently unknown.
We collected 18 specimens from individuals that died from non-cardiovascular causes. Age of the specimens ranged from a gestational age of 15 weeks through 11 years postnatal. Immunohistochemical labeling was performed against proteins comprising desmosomes, adherens junctions, the cardiac sodium channel and gap junctions to visualize spatiotemporal alterations in subcellular location of the proteins.
Changes in spatiotemporal localization of the adherens junction proteins (N-cadherin and ZO-1) and desmosomal proteins (plakoglobin, desmoplakin and plakophilin-2) were identical in all subsequent ages studied. After an initial period of diffuse and lateral labelling, all proteins were fully localized in the ID at approximately 1 year after birth. Nav1.5 that composes the cardiac sodium channel and the gap junction protein Cx43 follow a similar pattern but their arrival in the ID is detected at (much) later stages (two years for Nav1.5 and seven years for Cx43, respectively).
Our data on developmental maturation of the ID in human heart indicate that generation of the mechanical junctions at the ID precedes that of the electrical junctions with a significant difference in time. In addition arrival of the electrical junctions (Nav1.5 and Cx43) is not uniform since sodium channels localize much earlier than gap junction channels.
PMCID: PMC3986238  PMID: 24733085
14.  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
15.  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
16.  Alterations at the Intercalated Disk Associated with the Absence of Muscle Lim Protein 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2001;153(4):763-772.
In this study, we investigated cardiomyocyte cytoarchitecture in a mouse model for dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), the muscle LIM protein (MLP) knockout mouse and substantiated several observations in a second DCM model, the tropomodulin-overexpressing transgenic (TOT) mouse. Freshly isolated cardiomyocytes from both strains are characterized by a more irregular shape compared with wild-type cells. Alterations are observed at the intercalated disks, the specialized areas of mechanical coupling between cardiomyocytes, whereas the subcellular organization of contractile proteins in the sarcomeres of MLP knockout mice appears unchanged. Distinct parts of the intercalated disks are affected differently. Components from the adherens junctions are upregulated, desmosomal proteins are unchanged, and gap junction proteins are downregulated. In addition, the expression of N-RAP, a LIM domain– containing protein located at the intercalated disks, is upregulated in MLP knockout as well as in TOT mice. Detailed analysis of intercalated disk composition during postnatal development reveals that an upregulation of N-RAP expression might serve as an early marker for the development of DCM. Altered expression levels of cytoskeletal proteins (either the lack of MLP or an increased expression of tropomodulin) apparently lead to impaired function of the myofibrillar apparatus and to physiological stress that ultimately results in DCM and is accompanied by an altered appearance and composition of the intercalated disks.
PMCID: PMC2192386  PMID: 11352937
dilated cardiomyopathy; N-RAP; tropomodulin; adherens junction; gap junction
17.  Identification of actin-, alpha-actinin-, and vinculin-containing plaques at the lateral membrane of epithelial cells 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1986;102(5):1843-1852.
In this paper, a new type of spot desmosome-like junction (type II plaque) is described that is scattered along the entire lateral plasma membrane of rat and human intestinal epithelium. Ultrastructurally type II plaques differed from the classical type of epithelial spot desmosome ("macula adherens", further denoted as type I desmosome) by weak electron density of the membrane-associated plaque material, association of the plaques with microfilaments rather than intermediate filaments, and poorly visible material across the intercellular space. Thus, type II plaques resemble cross-sections of the zonula adherens. Immunofluorescence-microscopic studies were done using antibodies to a main protein associated with the plaques of type I desmosomes (desmoplakin I) and to the three major proteins located at the plaques of the zonula adherens (actin, alpha-actinin, and vinculin). Two types of plaques were visualized along the lateral surface of intestinal and prostatic epithelium: (a) the type I desmosomes, which were labeled with anti-desmoplakin but did not bind antibodies to actin, alpha- actinin, and vinculin, and (b) a further set of similarly sized plaques, which bound antibodies to actin, alpha-actinin, and vinculin but were not stained with anti-desmoplakin. Three-dimensional computer reconstruction of serial sections double-labeled with anti-desmoplakin and anti-alpha-actinin further confirmed that both types of plaques are spatially completely separated from each other along the lateral plasma membrane. The computer graphs further revealed that the actin-, alpha- actinin-, and vinculin-containing plaques have the tendency to form clusters, a feature also typical of type II plaques. It is suggested that the type II plaques represent spot desmosome-like intercellular junctions, which, like the zonula adherens, appear to be linked to the actin filament system. As the type II plaques cover a considerable part of the lateral cell surface, they might play a particular role in controlling cellular shape and intercellular adhesion.
PMCID: PMC2114231  PMID: 3084501
18.  Coxsackievirus-Induced miR-21 Disrupts Cardiomyocyte Interactions via the Downregulation of Intercalated Disk Components 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(4):e1004070.
Intercalated disks (ICDs) are substantial connections maintaining cardiac structures and mediating signal communications among cardiomyocytes. Deficiency in ICD components such as desmosomes, fascia adherens and gap junctions leads to heart dysfunction. Coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3) infection induces cardiac failure but its pathogenic effect on ICDs is unclear. Here we show that CVB3-induced miR-21 expression affects ICD structure, i.e., upregulated miR-21 targets YOD1, a deubiquitinating enzyme, to enhance the K48-linked ubiquitination and degradation of desmin, resulting in disruption of desmosomes. Inhibition of miR-21 preserves desmin during CVB3 infection. Treatment with proteasome inhibitors blocks miR-21-mediated desmin degradation. Transfection of miR-21 or knockdown of YOD1 triggers co-localization of desmin with proteasomes. We also identified K108 and K406 as important sites for desmin ubiquintination and degradation. In addition, miR-21 directly targets vinculin, leading to disturbed fascia adherens evidenced by the suppression and disorientation of pan-cadherin and α-E-catenin proteins, two fascia adherens-components. Our findings suggest a new mechanism of miR-21 in modulating cell-cell interactions of cardiomyocytes during CVB3 infection.
Author Summary
Coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3) is one of most common causes of heart inflammation and failure. However, the mechanism by which CVB3 induces cardiac damage has not been fully elucidated. Particularly, the involvement of microRNAs (miRNAs), a family of small RNAs controlling the progression of a wide range of diseases, in CVB3 infection is still unclear. These small RNAs are essential to understand the CVB3-caused heart muscle cell injury and have great potential to serve therapeutic purposes. Here, we systematically analyzed the miRNA changes during CVB3 infection and found that miR-21 is increased by viral infection. We further demonstrated that the CVB3-induced miR-21 triggers heart muscle cell damage by interfering with the cell-cell interactions. miR-21 suppresses the levels of components in cell-cell interactions by either promoting the degradation of those proteins or directly inhibiting the protein production. Inhibition of miR-21 can reduce the host injury caused by CVB3 infection. Our findings will shed new lights on the pathogenesis of CVB3-induced heart failure.
PMCID: PMC3983067  PMID: 24722419
19.  Occurrence and immunolocalization of plectin in tissues 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1983;97(3):887-901.
Various tissues from rat were examined for the occurrence and cellular localization of plectin, a 300,000-dalton polypeptide component present in intermediate filament-enriched cytoskeletons prepared from cultured cells by treatment with nonionic detergent and high salt solution. The extraction of liver, heart, skeletal muscle, tongue, and urinary bladder with 1% Triton/0.6 M KCl yielded insoluble cell residues that contained polypeptides of Mr 300,000 in variable amounts. These high Mr polypeptide species and a few bands of slightly lower Mr (most likely proteolytic breakdown products) were shown to react with antibodies to rat glioma C6 cell plectin using immunoautoradiography and/or immunoprecipitation. By indirect immunofluorescence microscopy using frozen sections (4 micron) of stomach, kidney, small intestine, liver, uterus, urinary bladder, and heart, antigens reacting with antibodies to plectin were found in fibroblast, endothelial, smooth, skeletal, and cardiac muscle, nerve, and epithelial cells of various types. Depending on the cell type, staining was observed either throughout the cytoplasm, or primarily at the periphery of cells, or in both locations. In hepatocytes, besides granular staining at the cell periphery, conspicuous staining of junctions sealing bile canaliculi was seen. In cardiac muscle strong staining was seen at intercalated disks and, as in skeletal muscle, at Z-lines. In cross sections through smooth muscle, most strikingly of urinary bladder, antibodies to plectin specifically decorated regularly spaced, spot-like structures at the cell periphery. By immunoelectron microscopy using the peroxidase technique, antiplectin-reactive material was found along cell junctions of hepatocytes and was particularly enriched at desmosomal plaques and structures associated with their cytoplasmic surfaces. A specific immunoreaction with desmosomes was also evident in sections through tongue. In cardiac muscle, besides Z-lines, intercalated disks were reactive along almost their entire surface, suggesting that plectin was associated with the fascia adherens, desmosomes, and probably gap junctions. In smooth muscle cells, regularly spaced lateral densities probably representing myofilament attachment sites were immunoreactive with plectin antibodies. The results show that plectin is of widespread occurrence with regard to tissues and cell types. Furthermore, immunolocalization by light and electron microscopy at junctional sites of various cell types and at attachment sites of cytoplasmic filaments in epithelial and muscle cells suggests that plectin possibly plays a universal role in the formation of cell junctions and the anchorage of cytoplasmic filaments.
PMCID: PMC2112553  PMID: 6350322
20.  The Spatiotemporal Development of Intercalated Disk in Three-Dimensional Engineered Heart Tissues Based on Collagen/Matrigel Matrix 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e81420.
Intercalated disk (ID), which electromechanically couples cardiomyocytes into a functional syncitium, is closely related to normal morphology and function of engineered heart tissues (EHTs), but the development mode of ID in the three-dimensional (3D) EHTs is still unclear. In this study, we focused on the spatiotemporal development of the ID in the EHTs constructed by mixing neonatal rat cardiomyocytes with collagen/Matrigel, and investigated the effect of 3D microenvironment provided by collagen/Matrigel matrix on the formation of ID. By histological and immmunofluorescent staining, the spatiotemporal distribution of ID-related junctions was detected. Furthermore, the ultra-structures of the ID in different developmental stages were observed under transmission electron microscope. In addition, the expression of the related proteins was quantitatively analyzed. The results indicate that accompanying the re-organization of cardiomyocytes in collagen/Matrigel matrix, the proteins of adherens junctions, desmosomes and gap junctions redistributed from diffused distribution to intercellular regions to form an integrated ID. The adherens junction and desmosome which are related with mechanical connection appeared earlier than gap junction which is essential for electrochemical coupling. These findings suggest that the 3D microenvironment based on collagen/Matrigel matrix could support the ordered assembly of the ID in EHTs and have implications for comprehending the ordered and coordinated development of ID during the functional organization of EHTs.
PMCID: PMC3829928  PMID: 24260578
21.  Protein zero, a nervous system adhesion molecule, triggers epithelial reversion in host carcinoma cells 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1995;131(2):465-482.
Protein zero (P(o)) is the immunoglobulin gene superfamily glycoprotein that mediates the self-adhesion of the Schwann cell plasma membrane that yields compact myelin. HeLa is a poorly differentiated carcinoma cell line that has lost characteristic morphological features of the cervical epithelium from which it originated. Normally, HeLa cells are not self-adherent. However, when P(o) is artificially expressed in this line, cells rapidly aggregate, and P(o) concentrates specifically at cell-cell contact sites. Rows of desmosomes are generated at these interfaces, the plasma membrane localization of cingulin and ZO-1, proteins that have been shown to be associated with tight junctions, is substantially increased, and cytokeratins coalesce into a cohesive intracellular network. Immunofluorescence patterns for the adherens junction proteins N-cadherin, alpha-catenin, and vinculin, and the desmosomal polypeptides desmoplakin, desmocollin, and desmoglein, are also markedly enhanced at the cell surface. Our data demonstrate that obligatory cell-cell adhesion, which in this case is initially brought about by the homophilic association of P(o) molecules across the intercellular cleft, triggers pronounced augmentation of the normally sluggish or sub-basal cell adhesion program in HeLa cells, culminating in suppression of the transformed state and reversion of the monolayer to an epithelioid phenotype. Furthermore, this response is apparently accompanied by an increase in mRNA and protein levels for desmoplakin and N-cadherin which are normally associated with epithelial junctions. Our conclusions are supported by analyses of ten proteins we examined immunochemically (P(o), cingulin, ZO-1, desmoplakin, desmoglein, desmocollin, N-cadherin, alpha-catenin, vinculin, and cytokeratin-18), and by quantitative polymerase chain reactions to measure relative amounts of desmoplakin and N-cadherin mRNAs. P(o) has no known signaling properties; the dramatic phenotypic changes we observed are highly likely to have developed in direct response to P(o)-induced cell adhesion. More generally, the ability of this "foreign" membrane adhesion protein to stimulate desmosome and adherens junction formation by augmenting well-studied cadherin-based adhesion mechanisms raises the possibility that perhaps any bona fide cell adhesion molecule, when functionally expressed, can engage common intracellular pathways and trigger reversion of a carcinoma to an epithelial-like phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2199992  PMID: 7593172
22.  Cell–cell junction remodeling in the heart: Possible role in cardiac conduction system function and arrhythmias? 
Life sciences  2011;90(9-10):313-321.
Anchoring Cell–cell junctions (desmosomes, fascia adherens) play crucial roles in maintaining mechanical integrity of cardiac muscle cells and tissue. Genetic mutations and/or loss of critical components in these macromolecular structures are increasingly being associated with arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathies; however, their specific roles have been primarily attributed to effects within the working (ventricular) cardiac muscle. Growing evidence also points to a key role for anchoring Cell–cell junction components in cardiac muscle cells of the cardiac conduction system. This is not only evidenced by the molecular and ultra-structural presence of anchoring cell junctions in specific compartments/structures of the cardiac conduction system (sinoatrial node, atrioventricular node, His-Purkinje system), but also because conduction system-related arrhythmias can be found in humans and mouse models of cardiomyopathies harboring defects and/or mutations in key anchoring Cell–cell junction proteins. These studies emphasize the clinical need to understand the molecular and cellular role(s) for anchoring Cell–cell junctions in cardiac conduction system function and arrhythmias. This review will focus on (i) experimental findings that underline an important role for anchoring Cell–cell junctions in the cardiac conduction system, (ii) insights regarding involvement of these structures in age-related cardiac remodeling of the conduction system, (iii) summarizing available genetic mouse models that can target cardiac conduction system structures and (iv) implications of these findings on future therapies for arrhythmogenic heart diseases.
PMCID: PMC3488940  PMID: 22227473
Heart; Anchoring Cell–cell junction; Desmosomes; Fascia adherens junction; Cardiac conduction system; Cardiac arrhythmias; Aging heart; Arrhythmogenic heart disease; Mouse models
23.  Transmembrane protein PERP is a component of tessellate junctions and of other junctional and non-junctional plasma membrane regions in diverse epithelial and epithelium-derived cells 
Cell and Tissue Research  2013;353(1):99-115.
Protein PERP (p53 apoptosis effector related to PMP-22) is a small (21.4 kDa) transmembrane polypeptide with an amino acid sequence indicative of a tetraspanin character. It is enriched in the plasma membrane and apparently contributes to cell-cell contacts. Hitherto, it has been reported to be exclusively a component of desmosomes of some stratified epithelia. However, by using a series of newly generated mono- and polyclonal antibodies, we show that protein PERP is not only present in all kinds of stratified epithelia but also occurs in simple, columnar, complex and transitional epithelia, in various types of squamous metaplasia and epithelium-derived tumors, in diverse epithelium-derived cell cultures and in myocardial tissue. Immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy allow us to localize PERP predominantly in small intradesmosomal locations and in variously sized, junction-like peri- and interdesmosomal regions (“tessellate junctions”), mostly in mosaic or amalgamated combinations with other molecules believed, to date, to be exclusive components of tight and adherens junctions. In the heart, PERP is a major component of the composite junctions of the intercalated disks connecting cardiomyocytes. Finally, protein PERP is a cobblestone-like general component of special plasma membrane regions such as the bile canaliculi of liver and subapical-to-lateral zones of diverse columnar epithelia and upper urothelial cell layers. We discuss possible organizational and architectonic functions of protein PERP and its potential value as an immunohistochemical diagnostic marker.
PMCID: PMC3691483  PMID: 23689684
Adhering junctions; Desmosomes; Tessellate junctions; PERP; Tetraspanins; Immunocytochemistry
24.  Interactions between Ankyrin-G, Plakophilin-2 and Connexin43 at the cardiac intercalated disc 
Circulation research  2011;109(2):193-201.
The early description of the intercalated disc defined three structures, all of them involved in cell-cell communication: desmosomes, gap junctions and adherens junctions. Current evidence demonstrates that molecules not involved in providing a physical continuum between cells, also populate the intercalated disc. Key among them is the voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC) complex. An important component of this complex is the cytoskeletal adaptor protein ankyrin-G (AnkG).
To test the hypothesis that AnkG partners with desmosome and gap junction molecules, and exerts a functional effect on intercellular communication in the heart.
Methods and Results
We utilized a combination of microscopy, immunochemistry, patch clamp and optical mapping to assess the interactions between AnkG, plakophilin-2 (PKP2) and Connexin43 (Cx43). Co-immunoprecipitation studies from rat heart lysate demonstrated associations between the three molecules. Using siRNA technology we demonstrated that loss of AnkG expression caused significant changes in subcellular distribution and/or abundance of PKP2 and Cx43, as well as a decrease in intercellular adhesion strength and electrical coupling. Regulation of AnkG and of Nav1.5 by PKP2 was also demonstrated. Finally, optical mapping experiments in AnkG-silenced cells demonstrated a shift in the minimal frequency at which rate-dependence activation block was observed.
These experiments support the hypothesis that AnkG is a key functional component of the intercalated disc, at the intersection of three complexes often considered independent: the VGSC, gap junctions and the cardiac desmosome. Possible implications to the pathophysiology of inherited arrhythmias (such as arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy; ARVC) are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3139453  PMID: 21617128
Ankyrin-G; Plakophilin-2; Connexin43; Desmosomes; Gap Junctions.
25.  FRAP Analysis Reveals Stabilization of Adhesion Structures in the Epidermis Compared to Cultured Keratinocytes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71491.
Proper development and tissue maintenance requires cell-cell adhesion structures, which serve diverse and crucial roles in tissue morphogenesis. Epithelial tissues have three main types of cell-cell junctions: tight junctions, which play a major role in barrier formation, and adherens junctions and desmosomes, which provide mechanical stability and organize the underlying cytoskeleton. Our current understanding of adhesion function is hindered by a lack of tools and methods to image junctions in mammals. To better understand the dynamics of adhesion in tissues we have created a knock-in ZO-1-GFP mouse and a BAC-transgenic mouse expressing desmoplakin I-GFP. We performed fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) experiments to quantify the turnover rates of the tight junction protein ZO-1, the adherens junction protein E-cadherin, and the desmosomal protein desmoplakin in the epidermis. Proteins at each type of junction are remarkably stable in the epidermis, in contrast to the high observed mobility of E-cadherin and ZO-1 at adherens junctions and tight junctions, respectively, in cultured cells. Our data demonstrate that there are additional mechanisms for stabilizing junctions in tissues that are not modeled by cell culture.
PMCID: PMC3747223  PMID: 23977053

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