, Volume 130, Issue 1, pp 21-54,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 03 Apr 2008

The desmosome and pemphigus

Abstract

Desmosomes are patch-like intercellular adhering junctions (“maculae adherentes”), which, in concert with the related adherens junctions, provide the mechanical strength to intercellular adhesion. Therefore, it is not surprising that desmosomes are abundant in tissues subjected to significant mechanical stress such as stratified epithelia and myocardium. Desmosomal adhesion is based on the Ca2+-dependent, homo- and heterophilic transinteraction of cadherin-type adhesion molecules. Desmosomal cadherins are anchored to the intermediate filament cytoskeleton by adaptor proteins of the armadillo and plakin families. Desmosomes are dynamic structures subjected to regulation and are therefore targets of signalling pathways, which control their molecular composition and adhesive properties. Moreover, evidence is emerging that desmosomal components themselves take part in outside-in signalling under physiologic and pathologic conditions. Disturbed desmosomal adhesion contributes to the pathogenesis of a number of diseases such as pemphigus, which is caused by autoantibodies against desmosomal cadherins. Beside pemphigus, desmosome-associated diseases are caused by other mechanisms such as genetic defects or bacterial toxins. Because most of these diseases affect the skin, desmosomes are interesting not only for cell biologists who are inspired by their complex structure and molecular composition, but also for clinical physicians who are confronted with patients suffering from severe blistering skin diseases such as pemphigus. To develop disease-specific therapeutic approaches, more insights into the molecular composition and regulation of desmosomes are required.