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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;802:31-47. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-7893-1_3.

Basic components of connective tissues and extracellular matrix: elastin, fibrillin, fibulins, fibrinogen, fibronectin, laminin, tenascins and thrombospondins.

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Department of Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Medical Partnership, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA, 30602-7388, USA,


Collagens are the most abundant components of the extracellular matrix and many types of soft tissues. Elastin is another major component of certain soft tissues, such as arterial walls and ligaments. Many other molecules, though lower in quantity, function as essential 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 muldomain 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. Laminins contribute to the structure of the extracellular matrix (ECM) and modulate cellular functions such as adhesion, differentiation, migration, stability of phenotype, and resistance towards apoptosis. 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. Elastin, an insoluble polymer of the monomeric soluble precursor tropoelastin, is 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 TGFβs 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. Fibrillins represent the predominant core of the 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 a scaffold 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. Fibulins are tightly connected with basement membranes, elastic fibers and other components of extracellular matrix and participate in formation of elastic fibers. 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.

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