The desmosome and the syndesmos: cell junctions in normal development and in malignancy.

W. W. Franke*, P. J. Koch, S. Schäfer, H. W. Heid, S. M. Troyanovsky, I. Moll, R. Moll

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The cells of various normal and malignantly transformed tissues are connected by "adhering junctions"-plasma membrane domains characterized by close membrane-membrane contact, a dense cytoplasmic plaque and, in most cases, the attachment of cytoskeletal filaments. On the basis of their specific ultrastructural organization and molecular composition, three major types of intercellular adhering junctions can be distinguished: 1. Adherens junctions appear in different shapes and sizes (zonula adhaerens, fascia adh., punctum adh.) and contain the transmembrane glycoprotein E-cadherin. The cytoplasmic portion of E-cadherin forms complexes with alpha-, beta-, and gamma-catenin and plakoglobin which, together with other proteins such as vinculin and radicin, constitute a plaque at which actin microfilaments insert. 2. Desmosomes (maculae adhaerentes) are mostly isodiametric (diameters up to approximately 0.5 micron) membrane domains traversed by representatives of two types of desmosomal cadherins, the desmogleins (Dsg) and desmocollins (Dsc), whose cytoplasmic tails contribute to a dense plaque containing plakoglobin and desmoplakin I (with or without an alternative splice form, desmoplakin II) which anchor IFs. The specific Dsc and Dsg subtypes can differ in different cell types and up to three different human genes have so far been identified for each desmosomal cadherin. 3. Complexus adhaerentes are junctions of variable size and shape that occur in lymphatic endothelia. They have a desmoplakin- and plakoglobin-rich plaque, whose specific transmembrane proteins have not yet been fully elucidated but can include endothelial cadherin-5. In their most elaborate subform- the "syndesmos" connecting the retothelial cells of lymph node sinus-these junctions can occupy extended portions of the cell surface. The molecular arrangements in desmosomes and complexus adhaerentes have been studied to understand the assembly and disappearance of these structures. The diagnostic potential of their constituent proteins for cell typing in tumor diagnosis is emphasized, as is the role of transient junction dissociation during invasion and metastasis of carcinomas and the general importance of tumor cell interactions with the retothelial cell system in the formation of lymph node metastases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-27
Number of pages14
JournalPrincess Takamatsu symposia
StatePublished - Dec 1 1994

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