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Keywords:

  • hemidesmosomes;
  • Caenorhabditis elegans;
  • attachment complexes;
  • zebrafish;
  • protein folding;
  • receptor trafficking;
  • sumoylation;
  • intermediate filament;
  • HECT-domain E3-ubiquitin ligase

Abstract

Hemidesmosomes are evolutionarily conserved attachment complexes linked to intermediate filaments that connect epithelial cells to the extracellular matrix. They provide tissue integrity and resistance to mechanical forces. Alterations in hemidesmosome structures are responsible for skin blistering, carcinoma invasion, and wound-healing defects. Valuable information about hemidesmosome assembly and disassembly has been obtained from in vitro cell culture studies. However, how these processes take place in vivo still remains elusive. Here, we discuss recent data about the formation and reorganization of hemidesmosomes in several in vivo model systems, particularly zebrafish and Caenorhabditis elegans, focusing on various factors affecting their dynamics. Mechanisms found in different organisms reveal that hemidesmosome formation and maintenance in vivo are carefully controlled by ECM protein folding, ECM-receptor expression and trafficking, and by post-translational modification of hemidesmosome components. These findings validate and extend the in vitro studies, and shed light on our understanding about hemidesmosomes across species. Developmental Dynamics 239:1465–1476, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.