The desmosome

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2009 Aug;1(2):a002543. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a002543.


Desmosomes are intercellular junctions that tether intermediate filaments to the plasma membrane. Desmogleins and desmocollins, members of the cadherin superfamily, mediate adhesion at desmosomes. Cytoplasmic components of the desmosome associate with the desmosomal cadherin tails through a series of protein interactions, which serve to recruit intermediate filaments to sites of desmosome assembly. These desmosomal plaque components include plakoglobin and the plakophilins, members of the armadillo gene family. Linkage to the cytoskeleton is mediated by the intermediate filament binding protein, desmoplakin, which associates with both plakoglobin and plakophilins. Although desmosomes are critical for maintaining stable cell-cell adhesion, emerging evidence indicates that they are also dynamic structures that contribute to cellular processes beyond that of cell adhesion. This article outlines the structure and function of the major desmosomal proteins, and explores the contributions of this protein complex to tissue architecture and morphogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Desmoplakins / metabolism
  • Desmosomes / physiology*
  • Developmental Biology
  • Drosophila
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Plakophilins / metabolism
  • gamma Catenin / metabolism


  • Desmoplakins
  • Plakophilins
  • gamma Catenin
  • Calcium