Squamous epithelial cells have both adherens junctions and desmosomes. The ability of these cells to organize the desmosomal proteins into a functional structure depends upon their ability first to organize an adherens junction. Since the adherens junction and the desmosome are separate structures with different molecular make up, it is not immediately obvious why formation of an adherens junction is a prerequisite for the formation of a desmosome. The adherens junction is composed of a transmembrane classical cadherin (E-cadherin and/or P-cadherin in squamous epithelial cells) linked to either β-catenin or plakoglobin, which is linked to α-catenin, which is linked to the actin cytoskeleton. The desmosome is composed of transmembrane proteins of the broad cadherin family (desmogleins and desmocollins) that are linked to the intermediate filament cytoskeleton, presumably through plakoglobin and desmoplakin. To begin to study the role of adherens junctions in the assembly of desmosomes, we produced an epithelial cell line that does not express classical cadherins and hence is unable to organize desmosomes, even though it retains the requisite desmosomal components. Transfection of E-cadherin and/or P-cadherin into this cell line did not restore the ability to organize desmosomes; however, overexpression of plakoglobin, along with E- cadherin, did permit desmosome organization. These data suggest that plakoglobin, which is the only known common component to both adherens junctions and desmosomes, must be linked to E-cadherin in the adherens junction before the cell can begin to assemble desmosomal components at regions of cell-cell contact. Although adherens junctions can form in the absence of plakoglobin, making use only of β-catenin, such junctions cannot support the formation of desmosomes. Thus, we speculate that plakoglobin plays a signaling role in desmosome organization.
Lewis J.E., Wahl III J.K., Sass K.M., Jensen P.J., Johnson K.R., Wheelock M.J. (1997) Cross-talk between adherens junctions and desmosomes depends on plakoglobin. Journal of Cell Biology 136: 919-934. doi: 10.1083/jcb.136.4.919