Extracellular Matrix of Animal Cells

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Extracellular matrix (ECM) of an animal cell. The molecular composition and structure of the ECM vary from one cell type to another. In this example, three different types of ECM molecules are present: collagen, fibronectin, and proteoglycans.

Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 119). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Extracellular Matrix of Animal Cells (Campbell Biology)

Although animal cells lack walls akin to those of plant cells, they do have an elaborate extracellular matrix (ECM). The main ingredients of the ECM are glycoproteins and other carbohydrate-containing molecules secreted by the cells. (Recall that glycoproteins are proteins with covalently bonded carbohydrates, usually short chains of sugars.) The most abundant glycoprotein in the ECM of most animal cells is collagen, which forms strong fibers outside the cells. In fact, collagen accounts for about 40% of the total protein in the human body. The collagen fibers are embedded in a network woven out of proteoglycans secreted by cells. A proteoglycan molecule consists of a small core protein with many carbohydrate chains covalently attached, so that it may be up to 95% carbohydrate. Large proteoglycan complexes can form when hundreds of proteoglycan molecules become noncovalently attached to a single long polysaccharide molecule. Some cells are attached to the ECM by ECM glycoproteins such as fibronectin. Fibronectin and other ECM proteins bind to cell-surface receptor proteins called integrins that are built into the plasma membrane. Integrins span the membrane and bind on their cytoplasmic side to associated proteins attached to microfilaments of the cytoskeleton. The name integrin is based on the word integrate: Integrins are in a position to transmit signals between the ECM and the cytoskeleton and thus to integrate changes occurring outside and inside the cell.

Current research on fibronectin, other ECM molecules, and integrins reveals the influential role of the ECM in the lives of cells. By communicating with a cell through integrins, the ECM can regulate a cell’s behavior. For example, some cells in a developing embryo migrate along specific pathways by matching the orientation of their microfilaments to the “grain” of fibers in the extracellular matrix. Researchers have also learned that the extracellular matrix around a cell can influence the activity of genes in the nucleus. Information about the ECM probably reaches the nucleus by a combination of mechanical and chemical signaling pathways. Mechanical signaling involves fibronectin, integrins, and microfilaments of the cytoskeleton. Changes in the cytoskeleton may in turn trigger signaling pathways inside the cell, leading to changes in the set of proteins being made by the cell and therefore changes in the cell’s function. In this way, the extracellular matrix of a particular tissue may help coordinate the behavior of all the cells of that tissue. Direct connections between cells also function in this coordination.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition. https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/series/Campbell-Biology-Series/2244849.html

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