Plakoglobin is the only protein that occurs in the cytoplasmic plaques of all known adhering junctions and has been shown to be crucially involved in the formation and maintenance of desmosomes anchoring intermediate-sized filaments (IFs) by its interaction with the desmosomal cadherins, desmoglein (Dsg), and desmocollin (Dsc). This topogenic importance of plakoglobin is now directly shown in living cells as well as in binding assays in vitro. We show that, in transfected human A-431 carcinoma cells, a chimeric protein combining the vesicle-forming transmembrane glycoprotein synaptophysin, with the complete human plakoglobin sequence, is sorted to small vesicles many of which associate with desmosomal plaques and their attached IFs. Immunoprecipitation experiments have further revealed that the chimeric plakoglobin-containing transmembrane molecules of these vesicles are tightly bound to Dsg and Dsc but not to endogenous plakoglobin, thus demonstrating that the binding of plakoglobin to desmosomal cadherins does not require its soluble state and is strong enough to attach large structures such as vesicles to desmosomes. To identify the binding domains and the mechanisms involved in the interaction of plakoglobin with desmosomal cadherins, we have developed direct binding assays in vitro in which plakoglobin or parts thereof, produced by recombinant DNA technology in E. coli, are exposed to molecules containing the "C-domains" of several cadherins. These assays have shown that plakoglobin associates most tightly with the C-domain of Dsg, to a lesser degree with that of Dsc and only weakly with the C-domain of E-cadherin. Three separate segments of plakoglobin containing various numbers of the so-called arm repeats exhibit distinct binding to the desmosomal cadherins comparable in strength to that of the entire molecule. The binding pattern of plakoglobin segments in vitro is compared with that in vivo. Paradoxically, in vitro some internal plakoglobin fragments bind even better to the C-domain of E-cadherin than the entire molecule, indicating that elements exist in native plakoglobin that interfere with the interaction of this protein with its various cadherin partners.

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