Publication: Charting the unexplored extracellular matrix in cancer

Thomas R. Cox, Apr 2018

Charting the unexplored extracellular matrix in cancer

Our new review on the recent advances in mapping the extracellular matrix in cancer has just been published in the International Journal of Experimental Pathology.

Composed of hundreds of different building blocks, the extracellular matrix (ECM) makes up the complex, highly cross‐linked, three‐dimensional (3D) network of macromolecules (proteins, glycoproteins and its subgroup of proteoglycans, polysaccharides (glycosaminoglycans), elastins and carbohydrates) that surround cells. It is essential to correct organisation and function of all tissues and organs, yet we know remarkably little about the assembly and organisation of these supramolecular structures of the ECM. In this review we discuss some of the recent advances and technologies that are helping us delve deeper into the matrix and further our understanding of the impact that dysregulated ECM has in diseases such as cancer.

IJEP Charting the unexplored extracellular matrix in cancer

Extracellular matrix building blocks


The extracellular matrix (ECM) is present in all solid tissues and considered a master regulator of cell behaviour and phenotype. The importance of maintaining the correct biochemical and biophysical properties of the ECM, and the subsequent regulation of cell and tissue homeostasis, is illustrated by the simple fact that the ECM is highly dysregulated in many different types of disease, especially cancer. The loss of tissue ECM homeostasis and integrity is seen as one of the hallmarks of cancer and typically defines transitional events in progression and metastasis. The vast majority of cancer studies place an emphasis on exploring the behaviour and intrinsic signalling pathways of tumour cells. Their goal was to identify ways to target intracellular pathways regulating cancer. Cancer progression and metastasis are powerfully influenced by the ECM and thus present a vast, unexplored repository of anticancer targets that we are only just beginning to tap into. Deconstructing the complexity of the tumour ECM landscape and identifying the interactions between the many cell types, soluble factors and extracellular‐matrix proteins have proved challenging. Here, we discuss some of the emerging tools and platforms being used to catalogue and chart the ECM in cancer.


View abstract on PubMed
View the article on the International Journal of Experimental Pathology website


Filipe EC et al. Charting the unexplored extracellular matrix in cancer.
International Journal of Experimental Pathology (2018) | doi: 10.1111/iep.12269

Key Words

Cancer, Extracellular Matrix, Imaging, Metastasis, Proteomics, Remodelling

Funding & Support

We apologize to authors whose work could not be discussed here because of space limitations. TRC is supported by a Susan G. Komen Career Catalyst award and the Cancer Institute of New South Wales (CINSW). JLC and ECF are supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia. TRC was the recipient of the 2016 British Society for Matrix Biology (BSMB) John Scott Young Investigator Award.