Intraepidermal and dermal-epidermal cohesion are of paramount importance for the integrity of the skin. Some constituent molecules of keratinocyte adhesion complexes and basement membrane-associated structures are the targets of antibody-mediated autoimmune reactions that give rise to various (muco-)cutaneous blistering diseases. The current state of our knowledge about these molecules--along with the main clinical, histological, and immunohistochemical features of the corresponding autoimmune diseases and their pathogenetic mechanisms--comprise the subjects surveyed in this review. Among the desmosomal cadherins (desmogleins and desmocollins) that mediate epidermal cell-cell adhesion, it has been demonstrated that desmoglein 1 and desmoglein 3 are the autoantigens of pemphigus foliaceus and pemphigus vulgaris, respectively, both diseases that result in intraepidermal blistering. Further, desmocollin autoantibodies may be involved in IgA pemphigus. Paraneoplastic pemphigus is associated with autoantibodies directed against the desmosomal plaque protein, desmoplakin. Of the constituents of hemidesmosomes, the plaque protein, BP230 (BPAG1), and the collagen-like transmembrane protein, BP180 (BPAG2), are the autoantigens of bullous pemphigoid and pemphigoid gestationis, the manifestations of both of which include subepidermal blistering. Several diseases arise from autoimmune reactions against certain proteins associated with the basement membrane located beneath hemidesmosomes, for example laminin 5 (cicatricial pemphigoid), ladinin (LAD-1; linear IgA disease), uncein, and collagen VII (epidermolysis bullosa acquisita), the last of which is the constituent protein of the anchoring fibrils. Such recent advances in the elucidation of the molecular nature of autoantigens may serve as the basis for the development of novel molecule-based therapeutic strategies.

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