Targeted mutation of plakoglobin in mice reveals essential functions of desmosomes in the embryonic heart.
Plakoglobin (gamma-catenin), a member of the armadillo family of proteins, is a constituent of the cytoplasmic plaque of desmosomes as well as of other adhering cell junctions, and is involved in anchorage of cytoskeletal filaments to specific cadherins. We have generated a null mutation of the plakoglobin gene in mice. Homozygous -/- mutant animals die between days 12-16 of embryogenesis due to defects in heart function. Often, heart ventricles burst and blood floods the pericard. This tissue instability correlates with the absence of desmosomes in heart, but not in epithelia organs. Instead, extended adherens junctions are formed in the heart, which contain desmosomal proteins, i.e., desmoplakin. Thus, plakoglobin is an essential component of myocardiac desmosomes and seems to play a crucial role in the sorting out of desmosomal and adherens junction components, and consequently in the architecture of intercalated discs and the stabilization of heart tissue.