Our previous work has suggested that the molecular components of desmosomes are highly conserved between different tissues and different vertebrate species. In order to determine whether the adhesion recognition mechanism of desmosomes is also conserved we have examined the specificity of desmosome formation between different epithelial cell types by co-culturing binary combinations of cells from different species and from epidermal and non-epidermal origin. The following cell types were used: human (HeLa, cervical carcinoma), bovine (Madin Darby bovine kidney, MDBK), canine (Madin Darby canine kidney, MDCK), avian (chick embryonic corneal epithelium) and amphibian (Rana pipiens, adult corneal epithelium). Different cells in co-culture were identified on the basis of at least one of the following criteria: (1) morphology by phase-contrast microscopy; (2) presence or absence of staining of cytokeratin with monoclonal antibody LE61; (3) morphology at the electron microscope level. Mutual desmosome formation between different cell types was assessed using fluorescent antibody staining with anti-desmoplakin antibodies and confirmed using electron microscopy. We have found that mutual desmosome formation occurred between all binary combinations of human, bovine, canine, avian and amphibian cells. Thus there is complete non-selectivity of desmosome formation between five different epithelial cell types from three vertebrate classes. Our results suggest that desmosome formation is not tissue- or species-specific and that the mechanism for intercellular binding involved in desmosomal adhesion is highly conserved.

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