The extracellular matrix is a component of all mammalian tissues, a network consisting largely of the fibrous proteins collagen, elastin and associated-microfibrils, fibronectin and laminins embedded in a viscoelastic gel of anionic proteoglycan polymers. It performs many functions in addition to its structural role; as a major component of the cellular microenvironment it influences cell behaviours such as proliferation, adhesion and migration, and regulates cell differentiation and death .
ECM composition is highly heterogeneous and dynamic, being constantly remodeled and modulated, largely by matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and growth factors that bind to the ECM influencing the synthesis, crosslinking and degradation of ECM components. ECM remodeling is involved in the regulation of cell differentiation processes such as the establishment and maintenance of stem cell niches, branching morphogenesis, angiogenesis, bone remodeling, and wound repair. Redundant mechanisms modulate the expression and function of ECM modifying enzymes. Abnormal ECM dynamics can lead to deregulated cell proliferation and invasion, failure of cell death, and loss of cell differentiation, resulting in congenital defects and pathological processes including tissue fibrosis and cancer.