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Cell Tissue Res. 2010 Jan;339(1):93-110. doi: 10.1007/s00441-009-0893-8. Epub 2009 Nov 3.

The developmental roles of the extracellular matrix: beyond structure to regulation.

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Department of Biochemistry and Centre for Reproduction, Development & Growth, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, SAR, China.


Cells in multicellular organisms are surrounded by a complex three-dimensional macromolecular extracellular matrix (ECM). This matrix, traditionally thought to serve a structural function providing support and strength to cells within tissues, is increasingly being recognized as having pleiotropic effects in development and growth. Elucidation of the role that the ECM plays in developmental processes has been significantly advanced by studying the phenotypic and developmental consequences of specific genetic alterations of ECM components in the mouse. These studies have revealed the enormous contribution of the ECM to the regulation of key processes in morphogenesis and organogenesis, such as cell adhesion, proliferation, specification, migration, survival, and differentiation. The ECM interacts with signaling molecules and morphogens thereby modulating their activities. This review considers these advances in our understanding of the function of ECM proteins during development, extending beyond their structural capacity, to embrace their new roles in intercellular signaling.

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