Desmosome structure, composition and function

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Mar;1778(3):572-87. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2007.07.014. Epub 2007 Aug 9.


Desmosomes are intercellular junctions of epithelia and cardiac muscle. They resist mechanical stress because they adopt a strongly adhesive state in which they are said to be hyper-adhesive and which distinguishes them from other intercellular junctions; desmosomes are specialised for strong adhesion and their failure can result in diseases of the skin and heart. They are also dynamic structures whose adhesiveness can switch between high and low affinity adhesive states during processes such as embryonic development and wound healing, the switching being signalled by protein kinase C. Desmosomes may also act as signalling centres, regulating the availability of signalling molecules and thereby participating in fundamental processes such as cell proliferation, differentiation and morphogenesis. Here we consider the structure, composition and function of desmosomes, and their role in embryonic development and disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adhesiveness
  • Animals
  • Armadillo Domain Proteins / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Desmoplakins / physiology
  • Desmosomal Cadherins / physiology
  • Desmosomes / chemistry*
  • Desmosomes / physiology*
  • Desmosomes / ultrastructure
  • Embryonic Development
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filaments / physiology
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Morphogenesis
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Armadillo Domain Proteins
  • Desmoplakins
  • Desmosomal Cadherins
  • Membrane Proteins