The extracellular matrix (ECM) of the lung serves as both a scaffold for resident cells and a mechanical support for respiratory function. The ECM is deposited during development and undergoes continuous turnover and maintenance during organ growth and homeostasis. Cells of the mesenchyme, including the tissue resident fibroblast, take a leading role in depositing and organizing the matrix and do so in an anatomically distinct fashion, with differing composition, organization, and mechanical properties within the airways, vessels, and alveoli of the lung. Recent technological advancements have allowed the lung's ECM biochemical composition and mechanical properties to be studied with improved resolution, thereby identifying novel disease-related changes in ECM characteristics. In parallel, efforts to study cells seeded on normal and disease-derived matrices have illustrated the powerful role the ECM can play in altering key functions of lung resident cells. The mechanical properties of the matrix have been identified as an important modifier of cell-matrix adhesions, with matrices of pathologic stiffness promoting profibrotic signaling and cell function. Ongoing work is identifying both mechanically activated pathways in mesenchymal cells and disease-related ECM molecules that biochemically regulate cell function. Uncovering the control systems by which cells respond to and regulate the matrix, and the failures in these systems that underlie aberrant repair, remains a major challenge. Progress in this area will be an essential element in efforts to engineer functional lung tissue for regenerative approaches and will be key to identifying new therapeutic strategies for lung diseases characterized by disturbed matrix architecture.
Keywords: extracellular matrix; fibroblast; fibrosis; lung.