Plakoglobin directly interacts with cadherins and plays an essential role in the assembly of adherens junctions and desmosomes. Recently we have reported that multiple cadherin binding sites are localized along the arm repeat region of plakoglobin. To demonstrate functionally and specificity of these sites in vivo we constructed a set of chimeric proteins containing a plakoglobin sequence fused with the transmembrane vesicular protein synaptophysin. Plakoglobin fused upstream or downstream from synaptophysin (PgSy and SyPg, chimeras, respectively) is exposed on the cytoplasmic surface of synaptic-like vesicles and is able to associate with E-cadherin, and with two desmosomal cadherins, desmoglein and desmocollin. Moreover, plakoglobin targets these vesicles to cell-cell junctions. Insertion of synaptophysin within plakoglobin (PSyG chimeras) can interfere with cadherin binding of the resulting chimeric proteins, dependent on the position of the insertion. Insertion of synaptophysin in the first three arm repeats selectively inactivates plakoglobin binding to desmoglein and desmocollin. An insertion of synaptophysin within the next two repeats inactivates E-cadherin and desmocollin binding but not desmoglein binding. This localization of the desmoglein and E-cadherin binding sites was further confirmed by replacement of plakoglobin arm repeats with the corresponding sequence derived from the plakoglobin homologue, beta-catenin, and by deletion mutagenesis. Insertion of synaptophysin in most sites within arm repeats 6–13 does not change plakoglobin binding to cadherins. It does, however, strongly inhibit association of the resulting vesicles either with desmosomes and adherens junctions or with desmosomes only. Using in vitro binding assays we demonstrate that arm repeats 6–13 contain two cryptic cadherin binding sites that are masked in the intact protein. These observations suggest that the arm repeat region of plakoglobin is comprises two functionally distinct regions: the 1/5 region containing desmoglein and E-cadherin specific binding sites and the 6/13 region implicated in targeting of plakoglobin/cadherin complexes into junctional structures.

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