The extracellular matrix (ECM) of the central nervous system is well recognized as a migration and diffusion barrier that allows for the trapping and presentation of growth factors to their receptors at the cell surface. Recent data highlight the importance of ECM molecules as synaptic and perisynaptic scaffolds that direct the clustering of neurotransmitter receptors in the postsynaptic compartment and that present barriers to reduce the lateral diffusion of membrane proteins away from synapses. The ECM also contributes to the migration and differentiation of stem cells in the neurogenic niche and organizes the polarized localization of ion channels and transporters at contacts between astrocytic processes and blood vessels. Thus, the ECM contributes to functional compartmentalization in the brain.
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