The consequence of numerous neurological disorders is the significant loss of neural cells, which further results in multilevel dysfunction or severe functional deficits. The extracellular matrix (ECM) is of tremendous importance for neural regeneration mediating ambivalent functions: ECM serves as a growth-promoting substrate for neurons but, on the other hand, is a major constituent of the inhibitory scar, which results from traumatic injuries of the central nervous system. Therefore, cell and tissue replacement strategies on the basis of ECM mimetics are very promising therapeutic interventions. Numerous synthetic and natural materials have proven effective both in vitro and in vivo. The closer a material's physicochemical and molecular properties are to the original extracellular matrix, the more promising its effectiveness may be. Relevant factors that need to be taken into account when designing such materials for neural repair relate to receptor-mediated cell-matrix interactions, which are dependent on chemical and mechanical sensing. This chapter outlines important characteristics of natural and synthetic ECM materials (scaffolds) and provides an overview of recent advances in design and application of ECM materials for neural regeneration, both in therapeutic applications and in basic biological research.
Keywords: ECM mimetic; Extracellular matrix; Neurodegeneration; Neuronal regeneration; Scaffold.