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6.6. Extracellular matrix or glycocalyx

Extracellular matrix or glucocalyx

A large part of the cells of multicellular beings are covered by the extracellular matrix, composed of macromolecules secreted by the cell. It's formed by:

  • Fibrous proteins.
    • The collagenIt is the most abundant and provides resistance.
    • Elastin. Provides elasticity. It is abundant in some structures such as ligaments, the walls of blood vessels or lung tissue.
  • Proteoglycans.
  • Structural glycoproteins. They form a network of elements that interact with the other components of the extracellular matrix and with those of the cell surface. Among them we can highlight.
    • Fibronectin. It collaborates in cell adhesion, appearing as long and insoluble fibrils.
    • Laminin. It is the first protein that allows cell adhesion during embryonic development.

Functions of the extracellular matrix

The glycocalyx has several functions:

  • Protects the cell from possible physical and chemical injuries.
  • Cell adhesion: fixes to cells that are part of tissues.
  • It is related to the molecules of the extracellular matrix.
  • It gives viscosity to cell surfaces, allowing moving cells to slide, such as blood cells.
  • It has immune properties, since it allows the immune system to recognize and attack antigens. For example, the glycocalyx of erythrocytes represent the characteristic antigens of blood groups.
  • Cancer defense: Changes in the glycocalyx of cancer cells allow the immune system to recognize and destroy them.
  • Compatibility transplants: forms the basis for compatibility transfusion blood, of the grafted tissue and organ transplants, as is the responder and makes possible the recognition of compatible cells to add a tissue, organ, etc. to the body of some living being.
  • Embryonic development: guides embryonic cells to their destinations in the body.
  • It contributes to the recognition and fixation of certain substances that the cell will incorporate through phagocytosis or pinocytosis.


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Biology and Geology teaching materials for Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO) and Baccalaureate students.