Desmosomes polarize and integrate chemical and mechanical signaling to govern epidermal tissue form and function

Joshua A. Broussard, Jennifer L. Koetsier, Marihan Hegazy, Kathleen J. Green*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The epidermis is a stratified epithelium in which structural and functional features are polarized across multiple cell layers. This type of polarity is essential for establishing the epidermal barrier, but how it is created and sustained is poorly understood. Previous work identified a role for the classic cadherin/filamentous-actin network in establishment of epidermal polarity. However, little is known about potential roles of the most prominent epidermal intercellular junction, the desmosome, in establishing epidermal polarity, in spite of the fact that desmosome constituents are patterned across the apical to basal cell layers. Here, we show that desmosomes and their associated intermediate filaments (IFs) are key regulators of mechanical polarization in epidermis, whereby basal and suprabasal cells experience different forces that drive layer-specific functions. Uncoupling desmosomes and IF or specific targeting of apical desmosomes through depletion of the superficial desmosomal cadherin, desmoglein 1, impedes basal stratification in an in vitro competition assay and suprabasal tight junction barrier functions in 3D reconstructed epidermis. Surprisingly, disengaging desmosomes from IF also accelerated the expression of differentiation markers, through precocious activation of the mechanosensitive transcriptional regulator serum response factor (SRF) and downstream activation of epidermal growth factor receptor family member ErbB2 by Src family kinase (SFK)-mediated phosphorylation. This Dsg1-SFK-ErbB2 axis also helps maintain tight junctions and barrier function later in differentiation. Together, these data demonstrate that the desmosome-IF network is a critical contributor to the cytoskeletal-adhesive machinery that supports the polarized function of the epidermis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3275-3291.e5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 9 2021


  • ErbB receptors
  • cell and tissue mechanics
  • cytoskeleton
  • desmoglein
  • desmoplakin
  • epidermal morphogenesis
  • epithelial polarity
  • intermediate filaments
  • tight junctions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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