Desmosomes are cell-cell adhesive structures essential for tissue integrity of the epidermis and the heart. Their constituents belong to multigene families giving rise to desmosomes of variable composition. So far, the functional significance of context-dependent composition in desmosome formation, dynamics, or stability during epidermal differentiation is incompletely understood. In this comparative study, we have uncovered unique and partially antagonistic functions of plakophilins 1 and 3 that are both expressed in the murine epidermis. These plakophilins differ in their localization patterns and kinetics during de novo desmosome formation and are regulated by distinct mechanisms. Moreover, plakophilin 3-containing desmosomes are more dynamic than desmosomes that contain predominantly plakophilin 1. Further, we show that Ca(2+)-independence of desmosomes strictly depends on plakophilin 1, whereas elevated levels of plakophilin 3 prevent the formation of hyperadhesive desmosomes in a protein kinase C alpha-dependent manner, even in the presence of plakophilin 1. Our study demonstrates that the balance between plakophilins 1 and 3 determines the context-dependent properties of epidermal desmosomes. In this setting, plakophilin 1 provides stable intercellular cohesion that resists mechanical stress, whereas plakophilin 3 confers dynamics as required during tissue homeostasis and repair. Our data have implications for the role of plakophilins in carcinogenesis.
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