Analysis of desmosomal cadherin-adhesive function and stoichiometry of desmosomal cadherin-plakoglobin complexes

J Invest Dermatol. 1996 Sep;107(3):293-300. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12363000.


Desmosomes are intercellular adhesive junctions that associate with the intermediate filament cytoskeleton. The two major classes of transmembrane desmosomal glycoproteins, desmogleins and desmocollins, are widely considered to function as adhesion molecules. This assumption is based in part on their homology to the cadherin family of calcium-dependent homophilic adhesion molecules. In addition, autoantibodies from pemphigus patients bind directly to desmoglein family members and are thought to cause epidermal blistering by inhibiting the function of these cadherins. To directly test the ability of the desmosomal cadherins to mediate adhesion, desmoglein-1 (Dsg1), desmocollin-2 (Dsc2a) and plakoglobin were expressed in mouse L cell fibroblasts. Similar to catenin:classical cadherin complexes, plakoglobin:Dsc2a complexes exhibited an approximately 1:1 stoichiometry; however, plakoglobin:Dsg1 complexes exhibited a 6:1 stoichiometry. When L cells expressing the desmosomal cadherins were tested for the ability to aggregate in suspension, L cells expressing E-cadherin exhibited extensive aggregation, but L cells expressing Dsg1 or Dsc2a did not aggregate. In addition, L cells co-expressing Dsg1, Dsc2a, and plakoglobin failed to aggregate. The cytoplasmic domain of E-cadherin is thought to play a central role in the adhesive function of E-cadherin by providing a link to the actin cytoskeleton. Therefore, two chimeric cadherins comprising the cytoplasmic domain of E-cadherin and the extracellular domain of either Dsg1 or Dsc2a were expressed in L cells. Both chimeras formed a complex with alpha- and beta-catenin. Nevertheless, neither of these chimeras supported aggregation of L cells when expressed individually or when co-expressed. These data suggest that the extracellular domains of the desmosomal cadherins exhibit functional properties distinct from those of the classical cadherins, such as E-cadherin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cadherins / chemistry
  • Cadherins / physiology*
  • Calcium / pharmacology
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology*
  • Cell Aggregation / physiology
  • Cell Line
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / chemistry
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism*
  • Desmocollins
  • Desmoglein 1
  • Desmogleins
  • Desmoplakins
  • Desmosomes / chemistry
  • Desmosomes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / physiology
  • Mathematics
  • Mice
  • Molecular Probes / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Trypsin / pharmacology
  • gamma Catenin


  • Cadherins
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • DSG1 protein, human
  • Desmocollins
  • Desmoglein 1
  • Desmogleins
  • Desmoplakins
  • Dsg1a protein, mouse
  • Molecular Probes
  • gamma Catenin
  • Trypsin
  • Calcium