Pemphigus foliaceus and pemphigus vulgaris are skin diseases in which antibodies against the cell surface of keratinocytes destroy the adhesion between epidermal cells, producing blisters. Patients with pemphigus foliaceus have antibodies to a complex of three polypeptides of 260, 160, and 85 kd (the foliaceus complex), whereas patients with pemphigus vulgaris have antibodies to a complex of 210-kd, 130-kd, and 85-kd polypeptides (the vulgaris complex). The 160-kd polypeptide of the foliaceus complex has been identified as desmoglein, a desmosomal glycoprotein. We suspected that the 85-kd component in both these antigenic complexes might be plakoglobin, another molecule in the adhering junctions of cells. To characterize these antigenic complexes, we used the serum of five patients with pemphigus foliaceus, that of four patients with pemphigus vulgaris, and monoclonal antiplakoglobin antibodies. We found that monoclonal antibodies to plakoglobin immunoprecipitated the 85-kd polypeptide from the dissociated foliaceus and vulgaris complexes and precipitated both complexes from epidermal extracts. Serum from patients with pemphigus foliaceus or pemphigus vulgaris (but not from four normal controls) bound desmoglein and the 130-kd polypeptide, respectively, showing that these peptides (and not plakoglobin) are the antigenic binding sites in these disorders. We conclude that plakoglobin, a protein of the adhering junctions of epidermal cells, is the 85-kd molecule in the antigenic complexes found in both pemphigus foliaceus and pemphigus vulgaris, although it is not the binding site in either disorder.