Recent studies have deepened our understanding of multiple mechanisms by which extracellular matrix (ECM) molecules regulate various aspects of synaptic plasticity and have strengthened a link between the ECM and learning and memory. New findings also support the view that the ECM is important for homeostatic processes, such as scaling of synaptic responses, metaplasticity and stabilization of synaptic connectivity. Activity-dependent modification of the ECM affects the formation of dendritic filopodia and the growth of dendritic spines. Thus, the ECM has a dual role as a promoter of structural and functional plasticity and as a degradable stabilizer of neural microcircuits. Both of these aspects are likely to be important for mental health.