Pemphigus vulgaris antigen (PVA) is a member of the desmoglein subfamily of cadherin cell adhesion molecules. Because autoantibodies in this disease cause blisters due to loss of epidermal cell adhesion, and because desmoglein is found in the desmosome cell adhesion junction, we wanted to determine if PVA is also found in desmosomes. By immunofluorescence, PV IgG bound, in a dotted pattern, to the cell surface of cultured human keratinocytes induced to differentiate with calcium, suggesting junctional staining. However, by preembedding, immunogold electron microscopic studies only slight labeling could be detected in desmosomes, presumably because of difficulty in gold penetration of intact desmosomes. We therefore treated the keratinocytes with 0.01% trypsin in 1 mM calcium, conditions known to preserve cadherin antigenicity but that caused slight separation of desmosomes, before immunogold staining. In this case there was extensive labeling of the extracellular part of desmosomes but not of the interdesmosomal cell membrane which was stained with anti-beta 2-microglobulin antibodies. To confirm the specificity of this binding we showed that antibodies raised in rabbits against the extracellular portions of PVA also bound desmosomes in these cultures. In intact mouse epidermis we could also show slight, but specific, immunogold desmosomal labeling with PV IgG. Furthermore, neonatal mice injected with PV IgG affinity purified on PVA showed desmosomal separation with the IgG localized to desmosomal cores. These results indicate that PVA is organized and concentrated within the desmosome where it presumably functions to maintain the integrity of stratifying epithelia.

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