The adhesion complex, which plays an important role in cell-substratum attachment, consists of a cellular hemidesmosomal plaque, anchoring filaments, the basement membrane zone and anchoring fibrils. An analysis of the temporal sequence of assembly of the adhesion complex was undertaken in an in vitro model of epithelial cell wound healing by immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. A monoclonal antibody directed against a 125K (K = 10(3) Mr) polypeptide (mAbHD), bullous pemphigoid (BP) autoantibodies, antibodies directed against collagen type VII and laminin antibodies were used as markers for anchoring filaments, the hemidesmosome, anchoring fibrils and the laminin component of the basement membrane zone, respectively. Fluorescence labeling could be detected with mAbHD before labeling with BP autoantibodies or collagen type VII antibodies. Laminin fluorescence was detected at the same time as mAbHD. Furthermore, the 125K polypeptide and laminin were located extracellularly prior to the appearance of BP antigen and collagen type VII. The appearance of the hemidesmosomal plaque at the electron microscope level succeeded the localization of BP antigen in basal cells detected by immunofluorescence microscopy. No evidence for the coordinated appearance of BP antigen, collagen type VII and laminin was observed in this model. We discuss the possibility that the 125K protein and laminin may play roles in the initiation of complex formation. Furthermore, although basement membrane zone components were detected early in adhesion complex re-formation, formation of the lamina densa region of the basement membrane zone followed the appearance of the hemidesmosomal plaque, indicating a role for the hemidesmosomal plaque in organizing the structure of the lamina densa.

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