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Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2004;(165):23-52. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-68170-0_2.

Structural aspects of adherens junctions and desmosomes.

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  • 1Department of Structural Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine, 299 Campus Drive, West Stanford, CA, 94305-5126, USA.


The cadherin-containing intercellular junctions, adherens junctions and desmosomes share an overall logical organization in which the extracellular regions of the cadherins on opposing cells interact, while their cytoplasmic domains are linked to the cytoskeleton through protein assemblies. In adherens junctions, beta-catenin binds to the cytoplasmic domain of cadherins and to alpha-catenin, which links the cadherin/beta-catenin complex to the actin cytoskeleton. In desmosomes, the beta-catenin homolog plakoglobin binds to desmosomal cadherins. The desmosomal cadherin/plakoglobin complex is linked to the intermediate filament system by the protein desmoplakin. In the past decade, components of these systems have been purified to homogeneity and studied biochemically and structurally, providing the beginnings of a mechanistic description of junction architecture and dynamics.

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