Much of the original research on desmosomes and their biochemical components was through analysis of skin and mucous membranes. The identification of desmogleins 1 and 3, desmosomal adhesion glycoproteins, as targets in pemphigus, a fatal autoimmune blistering disease of the skin and mucous membranes, provided the first link between desmosomes, desmogleins, and human diseases. The clinical and histological similarities of staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome or bullous impetigo and pemphigus foliaceus led us to identify desmoglein 1 as the proteolytic target of staphylococcal exfoliative toxins. Genetic analysis of striate palmoplantar keratoderma and hypotrichosis identified their responsible genes as desmogleins 1 and 4, respectively. More recently, these fundamental findings in cutaneous biology were extended beyond the skin. Desmoglein 2, which is expressed earliest among the four isoforms of desmoglein in development and found in all desmosome-bearing epithelial cells, was found to be mutated in arrythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy and has also been identified as a receptor for a subset of adenoviruses that cause respiratory and urinary tract infections. The story of desmoglein research illuminates how dermatological research, originally focused on one skin disease, pemphigus, has contributed to understanding the biology and pathophysiology of many seemingly unrelated tissues and diseases.
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