Desmosomes are a complex assembly of protein molecules that form at the cell surface and mediate cell–cell adhesion. Much is known about the composition of desmosomes and there is an established consensus for the location of and interactions between constituent proteins within the assembly. Furthermore, X-ray crystallography has determined atomic structures of isolated domains from several constituent proteins. Nevertheless, there is a lack of understanding about the architecture of the intact assembly and the physical principles behind the adhesive strength of desmosomes therefore remain vague. We have used electron tomography to address this problem. In previous work, we investigated the in situ structure of desmosomes from newborn mouse skin preserved by freeze-substitution and imaged in resin-embedded thin sections. In our present work, we have isolated desmosomes from cow snout and imaged them in the frozen unstained state. Although not definitive, the resulting images provide support for the irregular groupings of cadherin molecules seen previously in mouse skin.

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