The extracellular matrix (ECM) of the central nervous system (CNS) occupies a large part of the neural tissue. It serves a variety of functions ranging from support of cell migration and regulating synaptic transmission and plasticity to the active modulation of the neural tissue after injury. In addition, evidence for neuroprotective properties of ECM components has accumulated more recently. In contrast to other connective tissues, the central nervous ECM is mainly composed of glycosaminoglycans, which can be present unbound in the form of hyaluronan or bound to proteins, thus forming proteoglycans. A subtype of this molecular family are the chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans (CSPGs), which are composed of a core protein that carries at least one covalently bound glycosaminoglycan side chain with a certain degree of sulphation. Several studies could show neuroprotective features of CSPGs against excitotoxicity, amyloid-ß toxicity, or oxidative stress. Recently, we could provide evidence for a neuroprotective function of a specialized form of ECM, the so-called perineuronal net ensheathing a subtype of neurons. Here, we will give an overview on recently emerging aspects of neuroprotective properties of CSPGs and perineuronal nets that might be relevant for our understanding on the distribution and progression of brain pathology and future perspectives toward modifying neurodegenerative diseases.
Keywords: Chondroitin sulphate; Extracellular matrix; Neuroprotection; Oxidative stress; Perineuronal nets.