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Collagens are the most abundant components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) and many types of soft tissues. Elastin is another major component of certain soft tissues, such as arterial walls and ligaments. It is an insoluble polymer of the monomeric soluble precursor tropoelastin, and the main component of elastic fibers in matrix tissue where it provides elastic recoil and resilience to a variety of connective tissues, e.g., aorta and ligaments. Elastic fibers regulate activity of transforming growth factors β (TGFβ) through their association with fibrillin microfibrils. Elastin also plays a role in cell adhesion, cell migration, and has the ability to participate in cell signaling. Mutations in the elastin gene lead to cutis laxa. Many other molecules, though lower in quantity, function as essential, structural and/or functional components of the extracellular matrix in soft tissues. Some of these are reviewed in this chapter. Besides their basic structure, biochemistry and physiology, their roles in disorders of soft tissues are discussed only briefly as most chapters in this volume deal with relevant individual compounds. Fibronectin with its multidomain structure plays a role of "master organizer" in matrix assembly as it forms a bridge between cell surface receptors, e.g., integrins, and compounds such collagen, proteoglycans and other focal adhesion molecules. It also plays an essential role in the assembly of fibrillin-1 into a structured network. Though the primary role of fibrinogen is in clot formation, after conversion to fibrin by thrombin it also binds to a variety of compounds, particularly to various growth factors, and as such, fibrinogen is a player in cardiovascular and extracellular matrix physiology. Laminins contribute to the structure of the ECM and modulate cellular functions such as adhesion, differentiation, migration, stability of phenotype, and resistance towards apoptosis. Fibrillins represent the predominant core of microfibrils in elastic as well as non-elastic extracellular matrixes, and interact closely with tropoelastin and integrins. Not only do microfibrils provide structural integrity of specific organ systems, but they also provide basis for elastogenesis in elastic tissues. Fibrillin is important for the assembly of elastin into elastic fibers. Mutations in the fibrillin-1 gene are closely associated with Marfan syndrome. Latent TGFβ binding proteins (LTBPs) are included here as their structure is similar to fibrillins. Several categories of ECM components described after fibrillins are sub-classified as matricellular proteins, i.e., they are secreted into ECM, but do not provide structure. Rather they interact with cell membrane receptors, collagens, proteases, hormones and growth factors, communicating and directing cell-ECM traffic. Fibulins are tightly connected with basement membranes, elastic fibers and other components of extracellular matrix and participate in formation of elastic fibers. Matrilins have been emerging as a new group of supporting actors, and their role in connective tissue physiology and pathophysiology has not been fully characterized. Tenascins are ECM polymorphic glycoproteins found in many connective tissues in the body. Their expression is regulated by mechanical stress both during development and in adulthood. Tenascins mediate both inflammatory and fibrotic processes to enable effective tissue repair and play roles in pathogenesis of Ehlers-Danlos, heart disease, and regeneration and recovery of musculo-tendinous tissue. One of the roles of thrombospondin 1 is activation of TGFβ. Increased expression of thrombospondin and TGFβ activity was observed in fibrotic skin disorders such as keloids and scleroderma. Cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) or thrombospondin-5 is primarily present in the cartilage. High levels of COMP are present in fibrotic scars and systemic sclerosis of the skin, and in tendon, especially with physical activity, loading and post-injury. It plays a role in vascular wall remodeling and has been found in atherosclerotic plaques as well. © 2021. Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


Jaroslava Halper. Basic Components of Connective Tissues and Extracellular Matrix: Fibronectin, Fibrinogen, Laminin, Elastin, Fibrillins, Fibulins, Matrilins, Tenascins and Thrombospondins. Advances in experimental medicine and biology. 2021;1348:105-126

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PMID: 34807416

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