Pemphigus foliaceus is associated with an autoimmune response against desmoglein-1; however, the fine specificity of these autoantibodies and the role that they play in pathogenesis have not yet been elucidated. In an attempt to develop a system to facilitate the detection and characterization of this antigen/antibody system, recombinant human desmoglein-1 was expressed in COS-1 cells, a mammalian epithelial cell line. The desmoglein-1 transgene product was shown to be expressed on the surface of the COS-1 cells in the appropriate transmembrane orientation. All pemphigus foliaceus sera (endemic form, n = 24; nonendemic form, n = 7) reacted strongly with nonpermeabilized desmoglein-1-transfected cells, exhibiting a punctate cell-surface staining pattern. This reactivity against the desmoglein-1 ectodomain was predominantly an IgG4-restricted response and was calcium dependent. Ten of 18 pemphigus vulgaris sera also reacted with the extra-cellular domain of recombinant desmoglein-1. Use of this eukaryotic expression system should greatly facilitate further characterization of the anti-desmoglein-1 autoimmune response associated with pemphigus foliaceus and pemphigus vulgaris and may aid in determining its pathogenic relevance.