The brain's extracellular matrix and its role in synaptic plasticity

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2012;970:153-71. doi: 10.1007/978-3-7091-0932-8_7.


The extracellular matrix (ECM) of the brain has important roles in regulating synaptic function and plasticity. A juvenile ECM supports the wiring of neuronal networks, synaptogenesis, and synaptic maturation. The closure of critical periods for experience-dependent shaping of neuronal circuits coincides with the implementation of a mature form of ECM that is characterized by highly elaborate hyaluronan-based structures, the perineuronal nets (PNN), and PNN-like perisynaptic ECM specializations. In this chapter, we will focus on some recently reported aspects of ECM functions in brain plasticity. These include (a) the discovery that the ECM can act as a passive diffusion barrier for cell surface molecules including neurotransmitter receptors and in this way compartmentalize cell surfaces, (b) the specific functions of ECM components in actively regulating synaptic plasticity and homeostasis, and (c) the shaping processes of the ECM by extracellular proteases and in turn the activation particular signaling pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aggrecans / genetics
  • Aggrecans / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / genetics
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronic Acid / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Aggrecans
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Peptide Hydrolases