Desmosomes undergo dynamic architectural changes during assembly and maturation

Reena R. Beggs, Tejeshwar C. Rao, William F. Dean, Andrew P. Kowalczyk, Alexa L. Mattheyses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Desmosomes are macromolecular cell-cell junctions critical for maintaining adhesion and resisting mechanical stress in epithelial tissue. Desmosome assembly and the relationship between maturity and molecular architecture are not well understood. To address this, we employed a calcium switch assay to synchronize assembly followed by quantification of desmosome nanoscale organization using direct Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy (dSTORM). We found that the organization of the desmoplakin rod/C-terminal junction changed over the course of maturation, as indicated by a decrease in the plaque-to-plaque distance, while the plaque length increased. In contrast, the desmoplakin N-terminal domain and plakoglobin organization (plaque-to-plaque distance) were constant throughout maturation. This structural rearrangement of desmoplakin was concurrent with desmosome maturation measured by E-cadherin exclusion and increased adhesive strength. Using two-color dSTORM, we showed that while the number of individual E-cadherin containing junctions went down with the increasing time in high Ca2+, they maintained a wider desmoplakin rod/C-terminal plaque-to-plaque distance. This indicates that the maturation state of individual desmosomes can be identified by their architectural organization. We confirmed these architectural changes in another model of desmosome assembly, cell migration. Desmosomes in migrating cells, closest to the scratch where they are assembling, were shorter, E-cadherin enriched, and had wider desmoplakin rod/C-terminal plaque-to-plaque distances compared to desmosomes away from the wound edge. Key results were demonstrated in three cell lines representing simple, transitional, and stratified epithelia. Together, these data suggest that there is a set of architectural programs for desmosome maturation, and we hypothesize that desmoplakin architecture may be a contributing mechanism to regulating adhesive strength.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2017225
JournalTissue Barriers
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Histology
  • Cell Biology


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