ECM Proteins

The Extracellular Matrix (ECM) is composed of collagen, non-collagenous glycoproteins, and proteoglycans.  These components are secreted from cells to create an ECM meshwork that surrounds cells and tissues. The ECM regulates many aspects of cellular function, including the cells' dynamic behavior, cytoskeletal organization, and intercellular communication.  


MCF10A cells treated with fluorescent rhodamine fibronectin (Cat. # FNR01). Image kindly provided by A. Varadaraj and M. Karthikeyan, Universityof South Carolina, Columbia, SC.

Role in normal cellular functions

Formation of the extracellular matrix (ECM) requires cells to secrete ECM proteins. Assembly is achieved by following a strict hierarchical assembly pattern which begins with the deposition of fibronectin filaments on the cell surface, a process known as fibrillogenesis (1).  Cells continue to remodel the ECM by degradation and reassembly mechanisms, the dynamic nature of the ECM being particularly apparent during development, wound healing, and certain disease states (see below) (2). It is estimated that there are over 300 proteins comprising the mammalian ECM or “core matrisome” and this does not include the large number of ECM-associated proteins (3). Cells interact with the ECM through receptors such as integrins and syndecans, resulting in the transduction of multiple signals to regulate key cellular processes such as differentiation, proliferation, survival, and motility of cells (3).  The ECM has also been shown to bind growth factors such as VEGF, HGF and BMPs which are thought to create growth factor gradients that regulate pattern formation during development (4).  Many of the ECM-regulated cell processes operate via reorganization of the actin and microtubule cytoskeletons (5).

ECM Products



(Red fluorescent, rhodamine) 

(Green fluorescent, HiLyte488TM)

(Red fluorescent, rhodamine) 
(Green fluorescent, HiLyte488TM

Role in disease

Aberrant regulation or genetic defects of the ECM components often results in a pathogenic state. 

Genetic diseases: Several diseases have been shown to be caused by mutations in ECM genes, including macular degenerative disease (Fibulin 3, ref. 6), osteoarthritis (Asporin, ref. 7) and congenital muscular dystrophy (Laminins, ref. 8). 

Humoral immunity to FBLN-1 has been detected in breast cancer patient sera, indicating that altered expression of a given ECM protein is correlated with cancer (9).  It is also well established that degradation of the ECM, via the actions of matrix metalloproteinases, is a prerequisite to metastatic invasion of cancer cells (10).

Atherosclerosis: This disease has been linked to a buildup of collagen plaques (11).

Biomedical Applications

The field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering is utilizing ECM components to try to generate a predictable formation of tissues and organs from a given cell type (12,13).

Assays Used to study ECM

There is a preponderance of commercially available ECM reagents and cell attachment/invasion assays. The best known of the ECM reagents is MatrigelTM from BD which is an ECM extract from the Engelbreth-Holm-Swarm mouse tumor. MatrigelTM is composed of laminin (56%), collagen type IV (31%), and enactin (8%), and several growth factors, including EGF (0.7 ng/ml), PDGF (12 ng/ml), IGF-1 (16ng/ml), and TGF-a (2.3 ng/ml) (14).  Similar products include ECMatrixTM (Millipore) and ECM gel (Sigma). Most commercially available invasion assays utilize a Boyden-chamber like system (15).

Cytoskeleton offers a unique line of fluorescently-labeled and biotinylated fibronectins and laminins.  Several applications of these products are listed below.

Application #1:     In vitro invadopodia/podosome invasion assay (Cat.# FNR01, FNR02, LMN01, LMN02)

Cytoskeleton’s fluorescently-labeled fibronectins and laminins can be used in an in vitro invadopodia/podosome invasion assay (16).  This assay allows a high resolution examination of local cell invasion on specific ECM components and can be used to assess the invasive potential of cells and to examine compounds/pathways that affect this stage of invasion.  Originally described by Artym et al. for gelatin, the assay is equally applicable to fluorescent fibronectin or laminin (16).

Application #2:     Signaling pathways involved in fibronectin matrix assembly: fibrillogenesis (Cat.# FNR01, FNR02, FNR03)

Unlike other ECM components that can self-polymerize under physiological conditions, fibronectin matrix assembly is a cell-dependent process. Understanding the mechanisms involved in FN assembly and how these interplay with cellular, fibrotic, and immune responses may reveal targets for the future development of therapies to regulate aberrant tissue-repair processes.  Also, tissue engineering strongly depends on the ability to control the rate and pattern of ECM formation.  Cytoskeleton’s labeled fibronectins can be used to monitor fibrillogenesis;

Fluorescent Fibronectin Substrates (FNR01 & FNR02)

This method involves fluorescent tracing of fibril formation through incorporation of fluorescent fibronectins (17).   

The conversion of soluble fibronectin to insoluble fibrils on the cell surface can be visualized by feeding cell culture with media containing either TRITC-labeled fibronectin (Cat.# FNR01) or HiLyte488-labeled fibronectin (Cat.# FNR02). The level of incorporated fibronectin can be observed and quantitated by fluorescence microscopy (18).

Biotinylated Fibronectin Substrate (FNR03)

This method incorporates biotinylated fibronectin into the cells of interest and quantitates detergent soluble (cell bound) and detergent insoluble (fibrils) fibronectin. This assay has been used successfully to examine the role of Rho proteins in fibrillogenesis (19).

Application #3:     Tissue engineering applications (FNR03 & LMN03)

It has been shown that biotinylated ECM proteins can adopt a more native conformation when bound to a streptavidin surface and that this can lead to enhanced cellular binding to the ECM (20).


  1. Sottile J. and Hocking D. 2002. Fibronectin polymerization regulates the composition and stability of extracellular matrix fibrils and cell-matrix adhesions. Mol. Biol. Cell. 13, 3546-3559.
  2. Daley W. et al. 2007. Extracellular matrix dynamics in development and regenerative medicine. J. Cell Sci. 121, 255-264.
  3. Hynes R. and Naba. 2011. Overview of the matrisome-an inventory of extracellular matrix constituents and functions. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. doi:10.1101.
  4. Taipale J. and Keski-Oja J. 1997. Growth factors in the extracellular matrix. FASEB J. 11, 51-59.
  5. Ballestrem C. et al. 2004. Interplay between the actin cytoskeleton, focal adhesions and microtubules. Cell Motility. Ed Anne Ridley, Michelle Peckham and Peter Clark. 75-99.
  6. Klenotic PA. et al. 2004. Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3 (TIMP-3) is a binding partner of epidermal growth factor-containing fibulin-like extracellular matrix protein 1 (EFEMO1). Implications for macular degeneration. J. Biol. Chem. 279, 30469-30473.
  7. Kizawa H. et al. 2005. An aspartic acid repeat polymorphism in aspirin inhibits chondrogenesis and increases susceptibility to osteoarthritis. Nat. Genet. 37, 138-144.
  8. Hall TE. et al. 2007. The zebrafish candyfloss mutant implicates extracellular matrix adhesion failure in laminin alpha-2-deficient congenital muscular dystrophy. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 104, 7092-7097.
  9. Hu J. et al. 2008.  Matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors as therapy for inflammatory and vascular disease. Nat. Rev. Drug Discov. 6, 480-498.
  10. Pupa S. et al. 2002. New insights into the role of extracellular matrix during tumor onset and progression. J. Cell Physiol. 192, 259-267.
  11. Seyama Y. and Wachi H. 2004. Artherosclerosis and matrix dystrophy. J. Artheroscer. Thromb. 11, 236-245.
  12. Causa F. et al. 2007. A multi-functional scaffold for tissue regeneration: the need to engineer a tissue analog. Biomaterials. 28, 5093-5099.
  13. Barker TH. 2011. The role of ECM proteins and protein fragments in guiding cell behavior in regenerative medicine. Biomaterials. 32, 4211-4214.
  14. Kleinman HK. Et al. 1982. Isolation and characterization of type IV procollagen, laminin and heparin sulfate proteoglycan from EHS sarcoma. Biochemistry. 21, 6188-6193.
  15. Yuan K. et al. 2006. In vitro matrices for studying tumor cell invasion. Cell Motility in Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Ed. A. Wells. 25-54.
  16. Artym V. et al. 2009. ECM degradation assays for analyzing local cell invasion. Meth. Mol. Biol., Extracellular Matrix Protocols. 522, 211-219.
  17. Pankov R. and Momchilova A. 2009. Fluorescent labeling techniques for investigation of fibronectin fibrillogenesis (labeling fibronectin fibrillogenesis). Methods Mol. Biol., Extracellular Matrix Protocols. 522, 261-274. 
  18. Pankov R. et al. 2000.  Integrin dynamics and matrix assembly: tensin-dependent translocation of alpha (5)beta(1) integrins promotes early fibronectin fibrillogenesis. J. Cell Biol. 148, 1075-1090.
  19. Pankov R. and Yamada K. 2004. Non-radioactive quantification of fibronectin matrix assembly. Curr. Protoc. Cell Biol. 10.13.1-10.13.9.
  20. Lehnert M, et al. 2011. Adsorption and conformation behavior of biotinylated fibronectin on streptavidin-modified TiO(X) surfaces studied by SPR and AFM. Langmuir. 27, 7743-7751.

Rhodamine Fibronectin (Cat. # FNR01)

Engel, Leeya et al. “Extracellular matrix micropatterning technology for whole cell cryogenic electron microscopy studies.” Journal of micromechanics and microengineering : structures, devices, and systems vol. 29,11 (2019): 115018. doi:10.1088/1361-6439/ab419a

Varadaraj, Archana et al. “TGF-β triggers rapid fibrillogenesis via a novel TβRII-dependent fibronectin-trafficking mechanism.” Molecular biology of the cell vol. 28,9 (2017): 1195-1207. doi:10.1091/mbc.E16-08-0601

Mana, Giulia et al. “PPFIA1 drives active α5β1 integrin recycling and controls fibronectin fibrillogenesis and vascular morphogenesis.” Nature communications vol. 7 13546. 23 Nov. 2016, doi:10.1038/ncomms13546

Funano, S., Tanaka, N. & Tanaka, Y. Vapor-based micro/nano-partitioning of fluoro-functional group immobilization for long-term stable cell patterning. RSC Adv. 6, 96306–96313 (2016).

Comelles J. et al. 2014. Cells as active particles in asymmetric potentials: motility under external gradients. Biophys. J. 107, 1513-1522.

Steele et al., 2012. Tandem zyxin LIM sequences do not enhance force sensitive accumulation. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 422, 653–657.

Nakayama et al., 2012. Thermoresponsive Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)-Based Block Copolymer Coating for Optimizing Cell Sheet Fabrication. Macromol. Biosci. 12, 751–760.

Tamura et al., 2012. Thermally responsive microcarriers with optimal poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) grafted density for facilitating cell adhesion/detachment in suspension culture. Acta Biomaterialia. doi:

Steward et al., 2011. Mechanical stretch and shear flow induced reorganization and recruitment of fibronectin in fibroblasts. Sci. Rep. 1, 147. doi: 10.1038/srep00147.

Nagase et al., 2011. Thermo-Responsive Polymer Brushes as Intelligent Biointerfaces: Preparation via ATRP and Characterization. Macromol Biosci. 11, 300-309.

Nagase K et al. (2010). Thermo-Responsive Polymer Brushes as Intelligent Biointerfaces: Preparation via ATRP and Characterization.. Macromol Biosci.

Robinson, E. E., Foty, R. A. and Corbett, S. A. (2004). Fibronectin matrix assembly regulates α5β1-mediated cell cohesion. Mol. Biol. Cell 15, 973-981.

Brock, A., Chang, E., Ho, C. C., LeDuc, P., Jiang, X., Whitesides, G. M. and Ingber, D. E. (2003). Geometric determinants of directional cell motility revealed using microcontact printing. Langmuir 19, 1611-1617.

Fibronectin (Green fluroescent, HiLyte 488) (Cat. # FNR02)

Torr E.E. et al. 2015. Myofibroblasts exhibit enhanced fibronectin assembly that is intrinsic to their contractile phenotype. J. Biol. Chem. 290, 6951-6961.

Jacob A., et al. 2013. Rab40b regulates MMP2 and MMP9 trafficking during invadopodia formation and breast cancer cell invasion. J. Cell Sci. doi: 10.1242/​jcs.126573

Lively and Schlichter, 2013. The microglial activation state regulates migration and roles of matrix-dissolving enzymes for invasion. J. Neuroinflammation. 10:75.

Fibronectin (Biotinylated) (Cat. # FNR03)

Varadaraj, Archana et al. “TGF-β triggers rapid fibrillogenesis via a novel TβRII-dependent fibronectin-trafficking mechanism.” Molecular biology of the cell vol. 28,9 (2017): 1195-1207. doi:10.1091/mbc.E16-08-0601

N.M. Rodriguez et al., 2014. Micropatterned multicolor dynamically adhesive substrates to control cell adhesion and multicellular organization. Langmuir. DOI: 10.1021/la404037s.

Question 1:  Can I coat cells with fluorescent ECM proteins?

Answer 1: Yes, cells can be coated with fluorescently-labeled ECM proteins such as fibronectin.    Example protocols are found in Pallis et al., 1997 (Peripheral Blood Lymphocyte Binding to a Soluble FITC-Fibronectin Conjugate. Cytometry. 28, 157-164) and Huveneers et al., 2008 (Binding of soluble fibronectin to integrin a5b1 – link to focal adhesion redistribution and contractile shape. J. Cell Sci. 121, 2452-2462).  Briefly, cells are incubated with a low concentration of soluble fluorescently-labeled fibronectin in an appropriate buffer.  Low concentrations of fibronectin are recommended to minimize non-specific binding.  The cells/fibronectin mixture is incubated in the dark for 30 min at room temperature.  Others have done the incubation at 4°C for 1 hour.  The cells are then rinsed in an appropriate buffer, resuspended in the same buffer, and then the coating/binding of ECM proteins can be quantified by flow cytometry or the coated cells can be used experimentally.

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