Desmosomes are major intercellular junctions found in association with intermediate filaments in epithelial, cardiac and arachnoidal tissue. Desmoplakins I and II (DPI and II) are highly related proteins localized in the innermost part of the desmosomal plaque and are candidates for linking intermediate filaments (IF) to the desmosomal complex. While investigators agree that DPI is present in all epithelia, they disagree on the distribution of DPII. Some have reported DPII to be restricted to stratified tissue and have furthermore suggested that the expression of DPII may be linked to stratification. We have compared the expression of DPI and II at the mRNA and protein levels in cell lines derived from simple, transitional and stratified epithelia. Northern blot analysis revealed DPI and II mRNA to be present in all cell lines as well as simple and stratified epithelial tissues. However, DPII mRNA could not be detected in cardiac muscle tissue. Immunoblotting and immunoprecipitation demonstrated the presence of DPI and II in all cell lines at the whole-cell protein level as well as in association with cytoskeletal fractions. Immunofluorescence staining was used to correlate the biochemical findings with the localization of DPI and II. While most cell lines exhibited typical intercellular and in many cases cytoplasmic DP staining, T24 cells exhibited predominantly diffuse and dotty cytoplasmic staining. In addition, we investigated whether changes in DPI and II expression occurred following calcium-induced cell contact formation and stratification in the human pharyngeal cell line, FaDu. No significant changes in mRNA or whole-cell protein levels were observed during a period of 5 days following the calcium switch. However, immunoblotting revealed a significant increase in DPI and II levels in the insoluble protein pool during desmosome formation. These observations indicated a possible recruitment of soluble DPI/II into an insoluble pool after induction of desmosome assembly by the calcium switch, consistent with earlier reports for MDCK cells. In summary, our results suggest that the expression of DPII is not strictly linked to stratification or differentiation; however, the apparent absence of DPII mRNA from cardiac muscle suggests it may not be a constituent of all desmosomes.

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