Molecular map of the desmosomal plaque

Alison J. North*, William G. Bardsley, Janine Hyam, Elayne A. Bornslaeger, Hayley C. Cordingley, Brian Trinnaman, Mechthild Hatzfeld, Kathleen J. Green, Anthony I. Magee, David R. Garrod

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Recent biochemical and molecular approaches have begun to establish the protein interactions that lead to desmosome assembly. To determine whether these associations occur in native desmosomes we have performed ultrastructural localisation of specific domains of the major desmosomal components and have used the results to construct a molecular map of the desmosomal plaque. Antibodies directed against the amino- and carboxy-terminal domains of desmoplakin, plakoglobin and plakophilin 1, and against the carboxy-terminal domains of desmoglein 3, desmocollin 2a and desmocollin 2b, were used for immunogold labelling of ultrathin cryosections of bovine nasal epidermis. For each antibody, the mean distance of the gold particles, and thus the detected epitope, from the cytoplasmic surface of the plasma membrane was determined quantitatively. Results showed that: (i) plakophilin, although previously shown to bind intermediate filaments in vitro, is localised extremely close to the plasma membrane, rather than in the region where intermediate filaments are seen to insert into the desmosomal plaque; (ii) while the 'a' form of desmocollin overlaps with plakoglobin and desmoplakin, the shorter 'b' form may be spatially separated from them; (iii) desmoglein 3 extends across the entire outer plaque, beyond both desmocollins; (iv) the amino terminus of desmoplakin lies within the outer dense plaque and the carboxy terminus some 40 nm distant in the zone of intermediate filament attachment. This is consistent with a parallel arrangement of desmoplakin in dimers or higher order aggregates and with the predicted length of desmoplakin II, indicating that desmoplakin I may be folded or coiled. Thus several predictions from previous work were borne out by this study, but in other cases our observations yielded unexpected results. These results have significant implications relating to molecular interactions in desmosomes and emphasise the importance of applying multiple and complementary approaches to biological investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4325-4336
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of cell science
Issue number23
StatePublished - 1999


  • Desmosome
  • Immunogold
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Molecular map of the desmosomal plaque'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this