The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a highly dynamic and heterogeneous structure that plays multiple roles in living organisms. Its integrity and homeostasis are crucial for normal tissue development and organ physiology. Loss or alteration of ECM components turns towards a disease outcome. In this review, we provide a general overview of ECM components with a special focus on collagens, the most abundant and diverse ECM molecules. We discuss the different functions of the ECM including its impact on cell proliferation, migration and differentiation by highlighting the relevance of the bidirectional cross-talk between the matrix and surrounding cells. By systematically reviewing all the hereditary disorders associated to altered collagen structure or resulting in excessive collagen degradation, we point to the functional relevance of the collagen and therefore of the ECM elements for human health. Moreover, the large overlapping spectrum of clinical features of the collagen-related disorders makes in some cases the patient clinical diagnosis very difficult. A better understanding of ECM complexity and molecular mechanisms regulating the expression and functions of the various ECM elements will be fundamental to fully recognize the different clinical entities.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited