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Histochem Cell Biol. 2004 Jul;122(1):7-15. Epub 2004 Jun 23.

Fibroblasts form a body-wide cellular network.

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Department of Neurology, University of Vermont College of Medicine, 89 Beaumont Avenue, Burlington, VT 05405, USA.


"Loose" connective tissue forms a network extending throughout the body including subcutaneous and interstitial connective tissues. The existence of a cellular network of fibroblasts within loose connective tissue may have considerable significance as it may support yet unknown body-wide cellular signaling systems. We used a combination of histochemistry, immunohistochemistry, confocal scanning laser microscopy (confocal microscopy), and electron microscopy to investigate the extent and nature of cell-to-cell connections within mouse subcutaneous connective tissue. We found that fibroblasts formed a reticular web throughout the tissue. With confocal microscopy, 30% of fibroblasts' processes could be followed continuously from one cell to another. Connexin 43 immunoreactivity was present at apparent points of cell-to-cell contact. Electron microscopy revealed that processes from adjacent cells were in close apposition to one another, but gap junctions were not observed. Our findings indicate that soft tissue fibroblasts form an extensively interconnected cellular network, suggesting they may have important and so far unsuspected integrative functions at the level of the whole body.

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