Catenins are peripheral cytoplasmic proteins originally identified in association with the mouse epithelial cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin. Molecular cloning and primary structure analysis demonstrated that alpha-catenin is homologous to vinculin and the beta-catenin is homologous to human plakoglobin and the Drosophila gene product armadillo. With the use of peptide-specific anti plakoglobin antibodies were confirm here that plakoglobin is a component of the cadherin-catenin complex and that it is most likely identical to gamma-catenin. We show that plakoglobin binds directly to E-cadherin. We consolidate the biochemical evidence for the existence of two distinct and separable E-cadherin-catenin complexes in the same cell. One complex is composed of E-cadherin, alpha- and beta-catenin, the other of E-cadherin, alpha-catenin and plakoglobin. A similar distinct association with catenins is also found for other cadherins. Comparison of different cell lines revealed that the relative amounts of the two complexes vary depending on cell types.