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J Cell Sci. 1991 Aug;99 ( Pt 4):809-21.

Structural analysis and expression of human desmoglein: a cadherin-like component of the desmosome.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois 60611.


Desmosomes are adhesive cell junctions found in great abundance in tissues that experience mechanical stress. The transmembrane desmosomal glycoproteins have been proposed to play a role in cell adhesion; desmoglein I (DGI) is a major member of this class of desmosomal molecules. However, evidence supporting a role for DGI in cell adhesion or in the plaque is lacking. In order to begin to understand DGI function we have identified human cDNA clones encoding the entire mature polypeptide of 1000 amino acids. Our data suggest that like the bovine DGI molecule human DGI is highly related to the calcium-dependent class of cell adhesion molecules known as cadherins. Four related extracellular domains located in the amino-terminal domain of the molecule contain putative calcium binding sites originally identified in the cadherins. The highest degree of similarity between human N-cadherin and human DGI, and likewise between bovine DGI and human DGI, is greatest in the most amino-terminal extracellular domain. This suggests a conserved functional role for the extracellular domains, perhaps in calcium-mediated cell adhesion. The cytoplasmic portion of the molecule contains a cadherin-like region and, like bovine DGI, a carboxy-terminal tail that is not present in the cadherins, comprising three additional domains. One of these contains a novel repeating motif of 29 +/- 1 residues, first identified in bovine DGI. Each of the highly homologous repeating units is likely to consist of two beta-strands and two turns with special characteristics. Five amino acids that are identical in bovine and human DGI lie in the second of the two predicted beta-strands, and intriguingly contain putative target sites for protein kinase C. On the basis of structural analysis, a model predicting the disposition of human DGI domains in the desmosome is proposed. Northern analysis suggests that unlike bovine epidermis, which expresses a single mRNA of reported size approximately 7.6 kb, human foreskin and cultured keratinocytes display a complex pattern with bands of approximately 7.2, 4.0 and 3.0 kb. Each of these cross-hybridizing mRNAs is coordinately expressed in normal human keratinocytes in response to long-term culture and increased calcium.

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