We have shown previously, by fluorescent antibody staining, that desmosomal antigens are widely distributed in the tissues of vertebrate animals. Furthermore, we have demonstrated mutual desmosome formation between cells derived from man, cow, dog, chicken and frog. In this paper we have studied the components of desmosomes in a tissue or a cell line from each of these animals by immunoblotting with antibodies raised against the desmosomal components isolated from bovine nasal epithelium. Blotting was carried out on bovine nasal epithelial desmosomal cores, desmosome-enriched fractions derived from chicken and frog epidermis, nuclear matrix-intermediate filament scaffolds derived from Madin-Darby bovine and canine cells (MDBK and MDCK), and unextracted cultured human foreskin keratinocytes. The results show that desmosomes from all these sources contain high molecular weight proteins (desmoplakins) of similar or identical molecular weights (250 000 and 215 000). Antibodies against the two lower molecular weight desmosomal proteins (83 000 and 75 000) always recognized one or two bands in very similar molecular weight regions of the gels. The desmosomal glycoproteins were found to be much more variable than the proteins: they vary between sources in molecular weight, heterogeneity and antibody cross-reactivity. For instance, antibody specific for a group of glycoprotein bands of 175 000, 169 000 and 164 000 (Mr) in bovine nasal epithelium recognizes three bands of 245 000, 230 000 and 210 000 in MDCK cells but only a single band of 190 000 in keratinocytes. In mammals, the 175 000–164 000 glycoproteins and the desmosomal adhesion molecules, the desmocollins (Mr 130 000 and 115 000 in cow's nose), are immunologically distinct. In chicken and frog, however, there are glycoproteins that react with both anti-175 000–164 000 and anti-desmocollin antibodies, but there are also distinct desmocollin bands. The significance of these results is discussed in relation to conservation of desmosomal components and adhesion mechanisms. It is suggested that adhesion may be performed by a well-conserved protein domain and that the variation between desmosomal glycoproteins from different sources may be due to differences in their carbohydrate composition.

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