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J Invest Dermatol. 2007 Nov;127(11):2499-515.

Desmosomes: new perspectives on a classic.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA.


Desmosomes are highly specialized anchoring junctions that link intermediate filaments to sites of intercellular adhesion, thus facilitating the formation of a supracellular scaffolding that distributes mechanical forces throughout a tissue. These junctions are thus particularly important for maintaining the integrity of tissues that endure physical stress, such as the epidermis and myocardium. The importance of the classic mechanical functions of desmosomal constituents is underscored by pathologies reported in animal models and an ever-expanding list of human mutations that target both desmosomal cadherins and their associated cytoskeletal anchoring proteins. However, the notion that desmosomes are static structures that exist simply to glue cells together belies their susceptibility to remodeling in response to environmental cues and their important tissue-specific roles in cell behavior and signaling. Here, we review the molecular blueprint of the desmosome and models for assembling its protein components to form an adhesive interface and the desmosomal plaque. We also discuss emerging evidence of supra-adhesive roles for desmosomal proteins in regulating tissue morphogenesis and homeostasis. Finally, we highlight the dynamic nature of these adhesive organelles, examining mechanisms in health and disease for modulating adhesive strength and stability of desmosomes.

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