In this paper, a new type of spot desmosome-like junction (type II plaque) is described that is scattered along the entire lateral plasma membrane of rat and human intestinal epithelium. Ultrastructurally type II plaques differed from the classical type of epithelial spot desmosome ("macula adherens", further denoted as type I desmosome) by weak electron density of the membrane-associated plaque material, association of the plaques with microfilaments rather than intermediate filaments, and poorly visible material across the intercellular space. Thus, type II plaques resemble cross-sections of the zonula adherens. Immunofluorescence-microscopic studies were done using antibodies to a main protein associated with the plaques of type I desmosomes (desmoplakin I) and to the three major proteins located at the plaques of the zonula adherens (actin, alpha-actinin, and vinculin). Two types of plaques were visualized along the lateral surface of intestinal and prostatic epithelium: (a) the type I desmosomes, which were labeled with anti-desmoplakin but did not bind antibodies to actin, alpha-actinin, and vinculin, and (b) a further set of similarly sized plaques, which bound antibodies to actin, alpha-actinin, and vinculin but were not stained with anti-desmoplakin. Three-dimensional computer reconstruction of serial sections double-labeled with anti-desmoplakin and anti-alpha-actinin further confirmed that both types of plaques are spatially completely separated from each other along the lateral plasma membrane. The computer graphs further revealed that the actin-, alpha-actinin-, and vinculin-containing plaques have the tendency to form clusters, a feature also typical of type II plaques. It is suggested that the type II plaques represent spot desmosome-like intercellular junctions, which, like the zonula adherens, appear to be linked to the actin filament system. As the type II plaques cover a considerable part of the lateral cell surface, they might play a particular role in controlling cellular shape and intercellular adhesion.

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