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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  The junctions that don’t fit the scheme: special symmetrical cell-cell junctions of their own kind 
Cell and Tissue Research  2009;338(1):1-17.
Immunocytochemical, electron-, and immunoelectron-microscopical studies have revealed that, in addition to the four major “textbook categories” of cell-cell junctions (gap junctions, tight junctions, adherens junctions, and desmosomes), a broad range of other junctions exists, such as the tiny puncta adhaerentia minima, the taproot junctions (manubria adhaerentia), the plakophilin-2-containing adherens junctions of mesenchymal or mesenchymally derived cell types including malignantly transformed cells, the composite junctions (areae compositae) of the mature mammalian myocardium, the cortex adhaerens of the eye lens, the interdesmosomal “sandwich” or “stud” junctions in the subapical layers of stratified epithelia and the tumors derived therefrom, and the complexus adhaerentes of the endothelial and virgultar cells of the lymph node sinus. On the basis of their sizes and shapes, other morphological criteria, and their specific molecular ensembles, these junctions and the genes that encode them cannot be subsumed under one of the major categories mentioned above but represent special structures in their own right, appear to serve special functions, and can give rise to specific pathological disorders.
PMCID: PMC2760712  PMID: 19680692
Junctions; Desmosomes; Area composita; Filopodium; Plaque
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.  Discovering the Molecular Components of Intercellular Junctions—A Historical View 
The organization of metazoa is based on the formation of tissues and on tissue-typical functions and these in turn are based on cell–cell connecting structures. In vertebrates, four major forms of cell junctions have been classified and the molecular composition of which has been elucidated in the past three decades: Desmosomes, which connect epithelial and some other cell types, and the almost ubiquitous adherens junctions are based on closely cis-packed glycoproteins, cadherins, which are associated head-to-head with those of the hemi-junction domain of an adjacent cell, whereas their cytoplasmic regions assemble sizable plaques of special proteins anchoring cytoskeletal filaments. In contrast, the tight junctions (TJs) and gap junctions (GJs) are formed by tetraspan proteins (claudins and occludins, or connexins) arranged head-to-head as TJ seal bands or as paracrystalline connexin channels, allowing intercellular exchange of small molecules. The by and large parallel discoveries of the junction protein families are reported.
Werner Franke looks back over more than three decades of research into the structure and function of cell junctions.
PMCID: PMC2773636  PMID: 20066111
7.  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
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.  Cell-Cell Connection to Cardiac Disease 
Trends in cardiovascular medicine  2009;19(6):182-190.
Intercalated disks (ICDs) are highly organized cell-cell adhesion structures, which connect cardiomyocytes to one another. They are composed of three major complexes: desmosomes, fascia adherens, and gap junctions. Desmosomes and fascia adherens junction are necessary for mechanically coupling and reinforcing cardiomyocytes, whereas gap junctions are essential for rapid electrical transmission between cells. Because human genetics and mouse models have revealed that mutations and/or deficiencies in various ICD components can lead to cardiomyopathies and arrhythmias, considerable attention has focused on the biologic function of the ICD. This review will discuss recent scientific developments related to the ICD and focus on its role in regulating cardiac muscle structure, signaling, and disease.
PMCID: PMC3601820  PMID: 20211433
10.  Intercellular Junction Assembly, Dynamics, and Homeostasis 
Intercellular anchoring junctions are highly specialized regions of the plasma membrane where members of the cadherin family of transmembrane adhesion molecules on opposing cells interact through their extracellular domains, and through their cytoplasmic domains serve as a platform for organizing cytoskeletal anchors and remodelers. Here we focus on assembly of so-called “anchoring” or “adhering” junctions—adherens junctions (AJs) and desmosomes (DSMs), which associate with actin and intermediate filaments, respectively. We will examine how the assembly and function of AJs and DSMs are intimately connected during embryogenesis and in adult cells and tissues, and in some cases even form specialized “mixed” junctions. We will explore signaling and trafficking machineries that drive assembly and remodeling and how these mechanisms are co-opted in human disease.
Assembly and turnover of cell junctions are essential for development and tissue homeostasis. Both require actin remodeling and trafficking of transmembrane cadherins.
PMCID: PMC2828282  PMID: 20182611
11.  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
12.  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
13.  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
14.  Targeted mutation of plakoglobin in mice reveals essential functions of desmosomes in the embryonic heart 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1996;135(1):215-225.
Plakoglobin (gamma-catenin), a member of the armadillo family of proteins, is a constituent of the cytoplasmic plaque of desmosomes as well as of other adhering cell junctions, and is involved in anchorage of cytoskeletal filaments to specific cadherins. We have generated a null mutation of the plakoglobin gene in mice. Homozygous -/- mutant animals die between days 12-16 of embryogenesis due to defects in heart function. Often, heart ventricles burst and blood floods the pericard. This tissue instability correlates with the absence of desmosomes in heart, but not in epithelia organs. Instead, extended adherens junctions are formed in the heart, which contain desmosomal proteins, i.e., desmoplakin. Thus, plakoglobin is an essential component of myocardiac desmosomes and seems to play a crucial role in the sorting out of desmosomal and adherens junction components, and consequently in the architecture of intercalated discs and the stabilization of heart tissue.
PMCID: PMC2121015  PMID: 8858175
15.  Biology and regulation of ectoplasmic specialization, an atypical adherens junction type, in the testis* 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2007;1778(3):692-708.
Anchoring junctions are cell adhesion apparatus present in all epithelia and endothelia. They are found at the cell-cell interface (adherens junction (AJ) and desmosome) and cell-matrix interface (focal contact and hemidesmosome). In this review, we focus our discussion on AJ in particular the dynamic changes and regulation of this junction type in normal epithelia using testis as a model. There are extensive restructuring of AJ (e.g., ectoplasmic specialization, ES, a testis-specific AJ) at the Sertoli-Sertoli cell interface (basal ES) and Sertoli-elongating spermatid interface (apical ES) during the seminiferous epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis to facilitate the migration of developing germ cells across the seminiferous epithelium. Furthermore, recent findings have shown that ES also confers cell orientation and polarity in the seminiferous epithelium, illustrating that some of the functions initially ascribed to tight junctions (TJ), such as conferring cell polarity, are also part of the inherent properties of the AJ (e.g., apical ES) in the testis. The biology and regulation based on recent studies in the testis are of interest to cell biologists in the field, in particular their regulation, which perhaps is applicable to tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC2701193  PMID: 18068662
Anchoring junction; adherens junction; testis; spermatogenesis; ectoplasmic specialization; atypical adherens junction
16.  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
17.  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
18.  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
19.  Pervanadate stabilizes desmosomes 
Cell Adhesion & Migration  2008;2(3):161-166.
Desmosomes are intercellular junctions responsible for strong cell-cell adhesion in epithelia and cardiac muscle. Numerous studies have shown that the other major type of epithelial cell adhesion, the adherens junction, is destabilized by src-induced tyrosine phosphorylation of two of its principal components, E-cadherin and β-catenin. Here we show that treatment of epithelial cells with the potent tyrosine phosphatase inhibitor sodium pervanadate causes tyrosine phosphorylation of the major desmosomal components desmoglein 2 and plakoglobin in both the non-ionic detergent soluble and insoluble cell fractions and, surprisingly, stabilizes desmosomal adhesion, inducing the hyper-adhesive form normally found in tissues and confluent cell sheets. Taken together with the few other studies on desmosomes these results suggest that the effects of tyrosine phosphorylation on desmosomal adhesion are complex.
PMCID: PMC2634090  PMID: 19262118
desmosome; cell-cell adhesion; intercellular junction; tyrosine phosphorylation; pervanadate; desmoglein; plakoglobin
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.  Desmoplakin controls microvilli length but not cell adhesion or keratin organization in the intestinal epithelium 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2012;23(5):792-799.
Desmosomes are cell–cell adhesion structures whose canonical functions are control of intermediate filament organization and tissue strength. In the intestinal epithelium, desmosomes do not mediate these functions but instead control the brush border architecture of the enterocytes.
Maintaining proper cell–cell adhesion in the intestine is essential for tissue homeostasis and barrier function. This adhesion is thought to be mediated by cell adhesion structures, including tight junctions, adherens junctions, and desmosomes, which concentrate in the apical junctional region. While clear roles for adherens and tight junctions have been established in simple epithelia, the function of desmosomes has not been addressed. In stratified epithelia, desmosomes impart mechanical strength to tissues by organizing and anchoring the keratin filament network. In this paper, we report that the desmosomal protein desmoplakin (DP) is not essential for cell adhesion in the intestinal epithelium. Surprisingly, when DP is lacking, keratin filament localization is also unperturbed, although keratin filaments no longer anchor at desmosomes. Unexpectedly, DP is important for proper microvillus structure. Our study highlights the tissue-specific functions of desmosomes and reveals that the canonical functions for these structures are not conserved in simple epithelium.
PMCID: PMC3290639  PMID: 22238362
Developmental biology  2008;319(2):298-308.
Tissue morphogenesis and maintenance of complex tissue architecture requires a variety of cell-cell junctions. Typically, cells adhere to one another through cadherin junctions, both adherens and desmosomal junctions, strengthened by association with cytoskeletal networks during development. Both β- and γ-catenins are reported to link classical cadherins to the actin cytoskeleton, but only γ-catenin binds to the desmosomal cadherins, which links them to intermediate filaments through its association with desmoplakin. Here we provide the first biochemical evidence that, in vivo, γ-catenin also mediates interactions between classical cadherins and the intermediate filament cytoskeleton, linked through desmoplakin. In the developing lens, which has no desmosomes, we discovered that vimentin became linked to N-cadherin complexes in a differentiation-state specific manner. This newly identified junctional complex was tissue specific but not unique to the lens. To determine whether in this junction N-cadherin was linked to vimentin through γ-catenin or β-catenin we developed an innovative “double” immunoprecipitation technique. This approach made possible, for the first time, the separation of N-cadherin/γ-catenin from N-cadherin/β-catenin complexes and the identification of multiple members of each of these isolated protein complexes. The study revealed that vimentin was associated exclusively with N-cadherin/γ-catenin junctions. Assembly of this novel class of cadherin junctions was coincident with establishment of the unique cytoarchitecture of lens fiber cells. In addition, γ-catenin had a distinctive localization to the vertices of these hexagonally shaped differentiating lens fiber cells, a region devoid of actin; while β-catenin co-localized with actin at lateral cell interfaces. We believe this novel vimentin-linked N-cadherin/γ-catenin junction provides the tensile strength necessary to establish and maintain structural integrity in tissues that lack desmosomes.
PMCID: PMC2518943  PMID: 18514185
γ-catenin; cadherin; intermediate filament; vimentin; lens development; lens fiber cell differentiation
23.  Epithelial adhesive junctions 
F1000Prime Reports  2014;6:1.
Epithelial adhesive cell-to-cell contacts contain large, plasma membrane-spanning multiprotein aggregates that perform vital structural and signaling functions. Three prominent adhesive contacts are the tight junction, adherens junction, and the desmosome. Each junction type has unique cellular functions and a complex molecular composition. In this review, we comment on recent and exciting advances in our understanding of junction composition and function.
PMCID: PMC3883420  PMID: 24592313
24.  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
25.  Structure and Function of Intercellular Junctions in Human Cervical and Vaginal Mucosal Epithelia1 
Biology of Reproduction  2011;85(1):97-104.
The mucosal epithelium is a major portal for microbial invasion. Mucosal barrier integrity is maintained by the physical interactions of intercellular junctional molecules on opposing epithelial cells. The epithelial mucosa in the female reproductive tract provides the first line of defense against sexually transmitted pathogenic bacteria and viruses, but little is known concerning the structure and molecular composition of epithelial junctions at this site. In the present study, the distribution of tight, adherens, and desmosomal junctions were imaged in the human endocervix (columnar epithelium) and ectocervix (stratified squamous epithelium) by electron microscopy, and permeability was assessed by tracking the penetration of fluorescent immunoglobulin G (IgG). To further define the molecular structure of the intercellular junctions, select junctional molecules were localized in the endocervical, ectocervical, and vaginal epithelium by fluorescent immunohistology. The columnar epithelial cells of the endocervix were joined by tight junctions that excluded apically applied fluorescent IgG. In contrast, the most apical layers of the ectocervical stratified squamous epithelium did not contain classical cell-cell adhesions and were permeable to IgG. The suprabasal and basal epithelial layers in ectocervical and vaginal tissue contained the most robust adhesions; molecules characteristic of exclusionary junctions were detected three to four cellular layers below the luminal surface and extended to the basement membrane. These data indicate that the uppermost epithelial layers of the ectocervix and vagina constitute a unique microenvironment; their lack of tight junctions and permeability to large-molecular-weight immunological mediators suggest that this region is an important battlefront in host defense against microbial pathogens.
The epithelial junctions of the human endocervix, ectocervix, and vagina are characterized with special emphasis on junctional molecules that contribute to barrier function and immunity.
PMCID: PMC3123383  PMID: 21471299
cervix; epithelium; junctions; permeability; vagina

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