Keratins limit PKC-α phosphorylation activity and desmosome turnover to ensure the stability of epithelial intracellular adhesion.
Maintenance of epithelial cell adhesion is crucial for epidermal morphogenesis and homeostasis and relies predominantly on the interaction of keratins with desmosomes. Although the importance of desmosomes to epidermal coherence and keratin organization is well established, the significance of keratins in desmosome organization has not been fully resolved. Here, we report that keratinocytes lacking all keratins show elevated, PKC-α–mediated desmoplakin phosphorylation and subsequent destabilization of desmosomes. We find that PKC-α activity is regulated by Rack1–keratin interaction. Without keratins, desmosomes assemble but are endocytosed at accelerated rates, rendering epithelial sheets highly susceptible to mechanical stress. Re-expression of the keratin pair K5/14, inhibition of PKC-α activity, or blocking of endocytosis reconstituted both desmosome localization at the plasma membrane and epithelial adhesion. Our findings identify a hitherto unknown mechanism by which keratins control intercellular adhesion, with potential implications for tumor invasion and keratinopathies, settings in which diminished cell adhesion facilitates tissue fragility and neoplastic growth.