Role of the extracellular matrix in epithelial morphogenesis: a view from C. elegans

Organogenesis. Apr-Jun 2012;8(2):65-70. doi: 10.4161/org.20261. Epub 2012 Apr 1.


The extracellular matrix (ECM) plays an essential role in organizing tissues, defining their shapes or in presenting growth factors. Their components have been well described in most species, but our understanding of the mechanisms that control ECM remodeling remains limited. Likewise, how the ECM contributes to cellular mechanical responses has been examined in few cases. Here, I review how studies performed in C. elegans have brought several significant advances on those topics. Focusing only on epithelial cells, I discuss basement membrane invasion by the anchor cell during vulva morphogenesis, a process that has greatly expanded our knowledge of ECM remodeling in vivo. I then discuss the ECM role in a novel mechanotransduction process, whereby muscle contractions stimulate the remodeling of hemidesmosome-like junctions in the epidermis, which highlights that these junctions are mechanosensitive. Finally, I discuss progress in defining the composition and potential roles of the apical ECM covering epidermal cells in embryos.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / embryology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Hemidesmosomes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology
  • Morphogenesis / physiology