Extracellular calcium concentration has been shown to control the stratification of cultured keratinocytes, presumably by regulation of formation of desmosomes. Previous studies have shown that keratinocytes cultured in medium containing 0.1 mM Ca++ form loose colonies without desmosomes. If the Ca++ is raised to 1 mM, desmosomes are assembled and the distribution of keratin filaments is altered. We have examined the disposition of vinculin and actin in keratinocytes under similar conditions. Using immunofluorescence microscopy we show that raising [Ca++] in the medium dramatically alters the distribution of vinculin and actin and results in the formation of adherens-type junctions within 15 min after switching to high calcium medium. Borders of cells at the edge of colonies, which are not proximal to other cells, are not affected, while cells in the interior of the colony form junctions around their periphery. Attachment plaques in keratinocytes grown in low calcium medium are located at the ventral plane of the cell, but junctions formed after switching to high calcium are not, as demonstrated by interference reflection microscopy. In cells colabeled with antibodies against vinculin and desmoplakin, vinculin-containing adherens junctions were visible before desmosomal junctions when cells were switched to high calcium. Although newly formed vinculin-containing structures in high calcium cells, like desmosomes, colocalize with phase-dense structures, superimposition of video fluorescence images using digitized fluorescence microscopy indicates that adherens junctions and desmosomes are discrete structures. Adherens junctions, like desmosomes, may play an essential role in controlling stratification of keratinocytes.

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