After a brief review of epithelial cell junctions, the authors describe a series of observations and experiments directed toward elucidating the molecular organization and functions of the proteins of desmosomes (maculae adherentes). Their immunofluorescence observations reveal differences between the proteins of junctional complex and other desmosomes of the same cells. Quantitative immuno-localization studies are described using protein A-colloidal gold markers and a series of monospecific, polyclonal antibodies directed against cytokeratins and four desmosomal protein families. It is shown that desmoplakin III (about 81 kDa) is restricted to the desmosomal cytoplasmic plaque, which possesses outer and inner dense zones. Desmoplakins I/II (about 240 kDa and 210 kDa) extend across the same range and beyond into the intermediate filament-rich cytoplasm. Two glycoprotein families, desmoglein I (DGI; about 150 kDa) and desmoglein II (DGII; about 97-118 kDa), extend from the desmosomal midline (or beyond) across the desmoglea (intercellular space), through the plasma membrane and across both layers of the plaque, terminating near its cytoplasmic border. Cytokeratins do not extend into the desmosome. With new procedures utilizing guanidine HCl for preparing and fractionating desmosomal proteins, DGII has been purified to homogeneity. DGII, DGI and a third protein are all shown to bind Ca2+, which is known to promote desmosome assembly.