The outer most layer of the skin, the epidermis, is attached to the dermis via a sheet of extracellular matrix proteins termed the basement membrane zone (BMZ). In the intact skin, adhesion of the keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis to the BMZ is facilitated primarily by hemidesmosomes which associate with the keratin cytoskeleton. Cultured keratinocytes do not assemble bona fide hemidesmosomes although hemidesmosome protein clusters (stable anchoring contacts) are found along the substrate-attached surface of the cells and towards the leading edge of keratinocytes repopulating scratch wounds. Actin cytoskeleton-associated matrix adhesion devices termed focal contacts are not thought to play an important role in the adhesion of keratinocytes to the BMZ in intact skin but are prominent in cultured keratinocytes where they are believed to regulate cell migration. We review the molecular components, functions, dynamics and cross-talk of hemidesmosomes and focal contacts in keratinocytes. In addition, we briefly describe what is known about their role in autoimmune and genetic blistering diseases of the skin. We also discuss recent publications which indicate, contrary to expectation, that certain focal contact proteins retard keratinocyte migration while hemidesmosomal proteins regulate directed keratinocyte motility during wound healing.

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