Desmoplakins (DPs) I and II (approximately equal to 240 and approximately equal to 210 kDa) are major components of the internal portion of the desmosomal cytoplasmic plaque. Desmosomes play a crucial role in cell-cell adhesion and serve as specific attachment sites for cytoplasmic intermediate filaments. Although DP-I and -II are closely related molecules, their structure (i.e., amino acid or DNA sequence) has not been determined. In addition, it is not known whether these proteins are derived from one or more genes or whether they result from posttranscriptional or posttranslational events. This paper describes the isolation and characterization of eight DP cDNA clones from a bovine lambda gt11 expression library. Fusion proteins from six of these clones selected antibodies that reacted with DP-I and -II and two selected antibodies that reacted with DP-I alone. Antibodies made against fusion protein produced by the DP1A clone reacted specifically with DP-I and -II on immunoblots. When used for indirect immunofluorescence on bovine tongue cryostat sections and cultured mouse keratinocytes, these antibodies produced a typical desmosomal staining pattern. RNA blot analysis demonstrated hybridization of three DP-I/II cDNA probes with two messages of approximately equal to 7.5 and approximately equal to 9.5 kilobases in bovine tongue RNA. In contrast, a cDNA clone that affinity-purified antibodies reacting with DP-I only hybridized exclusively with the 9.5-kilobase band. Southern blots of genomic DNA digested with a panel of restriction enzymes were hybridized with one probe derived from a DP-I/II clone and with one from a DP-I clone. Both probes hybridized with single bands of the same size in each digested sample of DNA. Together, these data suggest that DP-I and DP-II are translated from two separate messages in bovine tongue and that these messages may be derived from a single gene.