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Extracellular Matrix Dynamics in Biology, Bioengineering, and Pathology

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The extracellular matrix (ECM) has been delegated a secondary role in understanding biological dynamics due to the preponderance of evidence for cells as the prime movers. Studies from the past few decades have provided compelling empirical evidence that ECM dynamics, like cellular motion, is critical for ...

The extracellular matrix (ECM) has been delegated a secondary role in understanding biological dynamics due to the preponderance of evidence for cells as the prime movers. Studies from the past few decades have provided compelling empirical evidence that ECM dynamics, like cellular motion, is critical for organization and maintenance of biological form and function. New evidence that the ECM is a dynamic entity arise from three major areas of investigation: 1) biology and biochemistry, 2) bioengineering and biomaterials, and 3) pathology and clinical medicine. The research addressed in this collection of studies highlights ECM dynamics in the critical process of biological organization, introduces new ECM-dependent advances in bioengineering, and addresses how aberrant ECM dynamics leads to pathologies.

In metazoans, the ECM is an integral physiological component featuring dynamic physical and chemical properties as early as the two-cell stage embryo. The ECM continues to impact biological processes as the organism reaches major developmental milestones. Thus, early morphogenesis and organogenesis continues to prove a fertile ground for the elucidation of mechanisms that underlie a dynamic ECM. The shift in perception of ECM as a dynamic entity is in no small measure attributable to the studies in physical sciences. A major thrust was provided by the application of rigorous quantitative approaches — the hallmark of bioengineering investigations — to study the dynamic interaction between the cells and ECM. What could have been a potentially complicated and intractable phenomenon in the whole organism, or, even in the whole organ, became tractable when the dynamic interactions between the ECM and cells were subjected to computational as well as modeling approaches. Complementing the evidence for ECM dynamics during animal development, and new data obtained from computational/engineering studies, are novel multidisciplinary approaches allowing investigators to address ECM dynamics under diverse pathobiological insults such as wound repair, fibrosis, and cancer.

Collectively, the biological and computational approaches described here provide a strong foundation to frame testable hypotheses in which the ECM is a dynamic entity equal in importance to cellular motion. By combining biological and engineering approaches, students of the ECM are now poised to explore its dynamical properties at all levels of biological organization — from molecules to whole organs.


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