New evidence from blocking desmosomal adhesion with anti-adhesion peptides reveals a role for desmosomes in cell positioning in morphogenesis. Desmosomal adhesion is necessary for the stability of adherens junctions in epithelial cell sheets. Knockout and mis-expression of desmosomal cadherins in mice suggests that they may function directly or indirectly in regulating epidermal differentiation. Protein kinase C signalling and tyrosine phosphorylation appear to regulate desmosomal adhesion. There are new insights into the role of desmosomal cadherins in autoimmune, infectious and genetic disease.