Oral mucosal lesions are seen in most cases of pemphigus vulgaris, whereas they are only rarely seen in pemphigus foliaceus; however, both pemphigus vulgaris and pemphigus foliaceus sera show positive immunofluorescence staining on oral mucosa. To explain this apparent paradox, we examined the expression level of desmoglein (Dsg)3, pemphigus vulgaris antigen, and Dsg1, pemphigus foliaceus antigen, in human squamous mucosal epithelia and epidermis by immunofluorescence staining and immunoblotting. For immunofluorescence staining, Dsg isotype-specific antibodies were produced by immunoadsorbing pemphigus vulgaris sera with either recombinant Dsg1 or Dsg3 baculoprotein. In oral mucosa and esophagus both Dsg were immunoreactive on cell surfaces throughout the entire epithelia, but staining intensity was weaker for Dsg1 than for Dsg3. Immunoblotting was performed to compare Dsg1 and Dsg3 expression levels in extracts from epidermis and oral mucosa. The total amount of desmosomal proteins applied was adjusted to give the same degree of staining intensity for desmoplakin, a cytoplasmic plaque protein of desmosomes. In the mucosal extract, the Dsg1 band was much weaker than Dsg3, whereas in the epidermal extract the Dsg1 band was stronger than Dsg3. These data suggest that although Dsg1 and Dsg3 are expressed in a similar distribution throughout squamous mucosal epithelia, Dsg1 is expressed at a much lower level than Dsg3. This finding provides a good explanation for the paradox: even though anti-Dsg1 autoantibodies block the function of Dsg1 in the mucosal epithelia, Dsg3 may be sufficient for cell-cell adhesion, with consequently no apparent oral involvement in pemphigus foliaceus patients.
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