The extracellular matrix (ECM) plays a key role as both structural scaffold and regulator of cell signal transduction in tissues. In times of ECM assembly and turnover, cells upregulate assembly of the ECM protein, fibronectin (FN). FN is assembled by cells into viscoelastic fibrils that can bind upward of 40 distinct growth factors and cytokines. These fibrils play a key role in assembling a provisional ECM during embryonic development and wound healing. Fibril assembly is also often upregulated during disease states, including cancer and fibrotic diseases. FN fibrils have unique mechanical properties, which allow them to alter mechanotransduction signals sensed and relayed by cells. Binding of soluble growth factors to FN fibrils alters signal transduction from these proteins, while binding of other ECM proteins, including collagens, elastins, and proteoglycans, to FN fibrils facilitates the maturation and tissue specificity of the ECM. In this review, we will discuss the assembly of FN fibrils from individual FN molecules; the composition, structure, and mechanics of FN fibrils; the interaction of FN fibrils with other ECM proteins and growth factors; the role of FN in transmitting mechanobiology signaling events; and approaches for studying the mechanics of FN fibrils.
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