Desmosomes are composed of two morphologically and biochemically distinct domains, a cytoplasmic plaque and membrane core. We have initiated a study of the synthesis and assembly of these domains in Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) epithelial cells to understand the mechanisms involved in the formation of desmosomes. Previously, we reported the kinetics of assembly of two components of the cytoplasmic plaque domain, Desmoplakin I/II (Pasdar, M., and W. J. Nelson. 1988. J. Cell Biol. 106:677-685 and 106:687-699. We have now extended this analysis to include a major glycoprotein component of the membrane core domain, Desmoglein I (DGI; Mr = 150,000). Using metabolic labeling and inhibitors of glycoprotein processing and intracellular transport, we show that DGI biosynthesis is a sequential process with defined stages. In the absence of cell-cell contact, DGI enters a Triton X-100 soluble pool and is core glycosylated. The soluble DGI is then transported to the Golgi complex where it is first complex glycosylated and then titrated into an insoluble pool. The insoluble pool of DGI is subsequently transported to the plasma membrane and is degraded rapidly (t1/2 less than 4 h). Although this biosynthetic pathway occurs independently of cell-cell contact, induction of cell-cell contact results in dramatic increases in the efficiency and rate of titration of DGI from the soluble to the insoluble pool, and its transport to the plasma membrane where DGI becomes metabolically stable (t1/2 greater than 24 h). Taken together with our previous study of DPI/II, we conclude that newly synthesized components of the cytoplasmic plaque and membrane core domains are processed and assembled with different kinetics indicating that, at least initially, each domain is assembled separately in the cell. However, upon induction of cell-cell contact there is a rapid titration of both components into an insoluble and metabolically stable pool at the plasma membrane that is concurrent with desmosome assembly.

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