Context: Although little is known as yet about the processes that coordinate cell-signalling pathways, matrix proteins are probably major players in this type of global control. The CCN (cyr61, ctgf, nov) proteins are an important family of matricellular regulatory factors involved in internal and external cell signalling. This family participates in angiogenesis, chondrogenesis, and osteogenesis, and they are probably involved in the control of cell proliferation and differentiation.
Starting point: Runping Gao and David Brigstock (Hepatol Res 2003; 27: 214-20) recently showed that CCN2 (CTGF, connective tissue growth factor) is a cell-adhesion factor for hepatic stellate cells. On exposure to transforming growth factor beta, hepatic stellate cells produce distinct CCN2 isoforms. Gao and Brigstock assign to CCN2 module 3 the capacity to mediate binding to low-density-lipoprotein receptor-related protein (LRP), which was previously reported to interact with CCN2 and to be involved in various types of signalling. They also establish that CCN2 binding to LRP is heparin dependent and that module 4 of CCN2 promotes LRP-independent adhesion of hepatic stellate cells. The differential binding of CCN2 isoforms to LRP highlights the importance of functional interactions between individual modules, and reinforces the concept that different module combinations might confer agonistic or antagonistic activities. WHERE NEXT? It is essential to understand how the distinct configuration of the various CCN isoform affects their biological activities and bioavailability, and to explore the mechanisms and the regulatory processes involved in the production of truncated CCN isoforms. A better understanding of the structural basis for their multifunctionality is a prerequisite to wider use of CCN proteins in molecular medicine.