On the origins of the extracellular matrix in vertebrates

Matrix Biol. 2007 Jan;26(1):2-11. doi: 10.1016/j.matbio.2006.09.008. Epub 2006 Sep 19.


Extracellular matrix (ECM) is a key metazoan characteristic. In addition to providing structure and orientation to tissues, it is involved in many cellular processes such as adhesion, migration, proliferation and differentiation. Here we provide a comprehensive analysis of ECM molecules focussing on when vertebrate specific matrices evolved. We identify 60 ECM genes and 20 associated processing enzymes in the genome of the urochordate Ciona intestinalis. A comparison with vertebrate and protostome genomes has permitted the identification of both a core set of metazoan matrix genes and vertebrate-specific innovations in the ECM. We have identified a few potential cases of de novo vertebrate ECM gene innovation, but the majority of ECM genes have resulted from duplication of pre-existing genes present in the ancestral vertebrate. In conclusion, the modern complexity we see in vertebrate ECM has come about largely by duplication and modification of pre-existing matrix molecules. Extracellular matrix genes and their processing enzymes appear to be over-represented in the vertebrate genome suggesting that these genes played an active role enabling and underpinning the evolution of vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ciona intestinalis / genetics*
  • Ciona intestinalis / metabolism
  • Collagen / genetics
  • Enzymes / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / genetics
  • Gene Duplication
  • Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Integrins / genetics
  • Models, Genetic
  • Multigene Family
  • Phylogeny
  • Proteoglycans / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Vertebrates / genetics*
  • Vertebrates / metabolism


  • Enzymes
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • Integrins
  • Proteoglycans
  • Collagen