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J Cell Sci. 2005 Dec 15;118(Pt 24):5743-54. Epub 2005 Nov 22.

Hyper-adhesion in desmosomes: its regulation in wound healing and possible relationship to cadherin crystal structure.

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  • 1Faculty of Life Sciences, Michael Smith Building, Oxford Road, University of Manchester, Manchester, M13 9PT, UK.


The resistance of tissues to physical stress is dependent upon strong cell-cell adhesion in which desmosomes play a crucial role. We propose that desmosomes fulfil this function by adopting a more strongly adhesive state, hyper-adhesion, than other junctions. We show that the hyper-adhesive desmosomes in epidermis resist disruption by ethylene glycol bis(2-aminoethyl ether)-N,N,N'N'-tetraacetic acid (EGTA) and are thus independent of Ca2+. We propose that Ca2+ independence is the normal condition for tissue desmosomes. Ca2+ independence is associated with an organised arrangement of the intercellular adhesive material exemplified by a dense midline. When epidermis is wounded, desmosomes in the wound-edge epithelium lose hyper-adhesiveness and become Ca2+ dependent, i.e. readily dissociated by EGTA. Ca2+-dependent desmosomes lack a midline and show narrowing of the intercellular space. We suggest that this indicates a less-organised, weakly adhesive arrangement of the desmosomal cadherins, resembling classical cadherins in adherens junctions. Transition to Ca2+ dependence on wounding is accompanied by relocalisation of protein kinase C alpha to desmosomal plaques suggesting that an 'inside-out' transmembrane signal is responsible for changing desmosomal adhesiveness. We model hyper-adhesive desmosomes using the crystal packing observed for the ectodomain of C-cadherin and show how the regularity of this 3D array provides a possible explanation for Ca2+ independence.

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