The role of ECM molecules in activity-dependent synaptic development and plasticity

Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2004 Mar;72(1):12-24. doi: 10.1002/bdrc.20001.


Growth and guidance of neurites (axons and dendrites) during development is the prerequisite for the establishment of functional neural networks in the adult organism. In the adult, mechanisms similar to those used during development may regulate plastic changes that underlie important nervous system functions, such as memory and learning. There is now ever-increasing evidence that extracellular matrix (ECM)-associated factors are critically involved in the formation of neuronal connections during development, and their plastic changes in the adult. Here, we review the current literature on the role of ECM components in activity-dependent synaptic development and plasticity, with the major focus on the thrombospondin type I repeat (TSR) domain-containing proteins. We propose that ECM components may modulate neuronal development and plasticity by: 1) regulating cellular motility and morphology, thus contributing to structural alterations that are associated with the expression of synaptic plasticity, 2) coordinating transsynaptic signaling during plasticity via their cell surface receptors, and 3) defining the physical parameters of the extracellular space, thereby regulating diffusion of soluble signaling molecules in the extracellular space (ECS).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Thrombospondins / metabolism


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Thrombospondins