Fascia adherens. Electron micrograph showing the end-to-end apposition of two cardiac muscle cells. The intercellular space appears as a clear undulating area. On the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane of each cell, there is a dense material similar to that seen in a zonula adherens containing actin filaments. Because the attachment site here involves a portion of the end face of the two cells, it is called a fascia adherens, x38,000.
The intercellular space of the macula adherens is conspicuously wider (up to 30 nm) than that of the zonula adherens and is occupied by a dense medial band, the intermediate line. This line represents extracellular portions of transmembrane glycoproteins, the desmogleins and desmocollins, which are members of the cadherin family of Ca2+-dependent cell adhesion molecules. In the presence of Ca2+, extracellular portions of desmogleins and desmocollins bind adjacent identical molecules of neighboring cells. X-ray crystallographic studies suggest that the extracellular binding domain of proteins from one cell interacts with two adjacent cadherin domains in an antiparallel orientation, thus forming a continuous cadherin zipper in the area of the desmosome (see Fig. 4.13b). The cytoplasmic portions of desmogleins and desmocollins are integral components of the desmosomal attachment plaque. They interact with the placoglobins and desmoplakins that are involved in desmosome assembly and the anchoring of intermediate filaments.
The cells of different epithelia require different types of attachments
In epithelia that serve as physiologic barriers, the junctional complex is particularly significant because it serves to create a long-term barrier, allowing the cells to compartmentalize and restrict the free passage of substances across the epithelium. Although it is the zonula occludens of the junctional complex that principally effects this function, it is the adhesive properties of the zonulae and maculae adherens that guard against physical disruption of the barrier. In other epithelia, there is need for substantially stronger attachment between cells in several planes. In the stratified epithelial cells of the epidermis, for example, numerous maculae adherentes maintain adhesion between adjacent cells. In cardiac muscle, where there is a similar need for strong adhesion, a combination of the macula adherens and the fascia adherens serves this function.
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