A desmosome, also known as macula adherens (Latin: adhering spot), is a cell structure specialized for cell-to-cell adhesion. A type of junctional complex, they are localized spot-like adhesions randomly arranged on the lateral sides of plasma membranes.
Desmosomes help to resist shearing forces and are found in simple and stratified squamous epithelium. The intercellular space is very wide (about 30nm). Desmosomes are also found in muscle tissue where they bind muscles cells to one another.
The cell adhesion proteins of the desmosome are members of the cadherin family of cell adhesion molecules.
On the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane is a disk-like structure (attachment plaque) composed of very dense materials.
If the desmosomes connecting adjacent epithelial cells of the skin are not functioning correctly, layers of the skin can pull apart and allow abnormal movements of fluid within the skin, resulting in blisters and other tissue damage. Blistering diseases such as Pemphigus vulgaris can be due to genetic defects in desmosomal proteins or due to an autoimmune response. These patients are often found to have antibodies that bind to the desmosomal cadherins and disrupt the desmosomes.
When visualized by electron microscopy, hemidesmosomes are similar in appearance to desmosomes. Rather than linking two cells, hemidesmosomes attach one cell to the extracellular matrix. Rather than using cadherins, hemidesmosomes use integrin cell adhesion proteins. Hemidesmosomes are asymmetrical and are found in epithelial cells connecting the basal face to other cells.
- Green KJ and Jones JC. (1996). "Desmosomes and hemidesmosomes: structure and function of molecular components". The FASEB Journal. 10 (8): 871–81. Full text online
- Desmosomes Connect Intermediate Filaments from Cell to Cell in Molecular Biology of the Cell by Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts and Peter Walter (2002) Published by Garland Science. ISBN 0-8153-4072-9
- MedEd at Loyola Histo/practical/epithelium/hp1-13.html
- Histology image: 20502loa – Histology Learning System at Boston University - "Ultrastructure of the Cell: microvillous border, Junctional Complex of absorptive epithelium"
- Histology image: 20604loa – Histology Learning System at Boston University - "Ultrastructure of the Cell: microvillous border and Junctional Complex, desmosomes and zonula adherens"
- Histology image: 22502loa – Histology Learning System at Boston University - "Ultrastructure of the Cell: cardiac muscle, intercalated disk"