- Functions of Connective Tissues
- Connective Tissue Proper
- How Verizon Media and our partners bring you better ad experiences
- Cell Types
- Connective Tissue Fibers and Ground Substance
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- Functions of Connective Tissues
- Loose Connective Tissue
- Before you continue...
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- Dense Connective Tissue
- What to Know About Facial Tissues
- The Best Tissues of 2019
- Cell Types
As may be obvious from its name, one of the major functions of connective tissue is to connect tissues and organs. Unlike epithelial tissue, which is composed of cells closely packed with little or no extracellular space in between, connective tissue cells are dispersed in a matrix. The matrix usually includes a large amount of extracellular material produced by the connective tissue cells that are embedded within it.
The matrix plays a major role in the functioning of this tissue. The major component of the matrix is a ground substance often crisscrossed by protein fibers. This ground substance is usually a fluid, but it can also be mineralized and solid, as in bones. Connective tissues come in a vast variety of forms, yet they typically have in common three characteristic components: cells, large amounts of amorphous ground substance, and protein fibers.
The amount and structure of each component correlates with the function of the tissue, from the rigid ground substance in bones supporting the body to the inclusion of specialized cells; for example, a phagocytic cell that engulfs pathogens and also rids tissue of cellular debris.
Functions of Connective Tissues
Connective tissues perform many functions in the body, but most importantly, they support and connect other tissues; from the connective tissue sheath that surrounds muscle cells, to the tendons that attach muscles to bones, and to the skeleton that supports the positions of the body.
Protection is another major function of connective tissue, in the form of fibrous capsules and bones that protect delicate organs and, of course, the skeletal system.
Specialized cells in connective tissue defend the body from microorganisms that enter the body. Transport of fluid, nutrients, waste, and chemical messengers is ensured by specialized fluid connective tissues, such as blood and lymph. Adipose cells store surplus energy in the form of fat and contribute to the thermal insulation of the body.
Connective Tissue Proper
Fibroblasts are present in all connective tissue proper (Figure 1).
Fibrocytes, adipocytes, and mesenchymal cells are fixed cells, which means they remain within the connective tissue. Other cells move in and out of the connective tissue in response to chemical signals.
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Macrophages, mast cells, lymphocytes, plasma cells, and phagocytic cells are found in connective tissue proper but are actually part of the immune system protecting the body.
The most abundant cell in connective tissue proper is the fibroblast.
Polysaccharides and proteins secreted by fibroblasts combine with extra-cellular fluids to produce a viscous ground substance that, with embedded fibrous proteins, forms the extra-cellular matrix. As you might expect, a fibrocyte, a less active form of fibroblast, is the second most common cell type in connective tissue proper.
Adipocytes are cells that store lipids as droplets that fill most of the cytoplasm.
There are two basic types of adipocytes: white and brown. The brown adipocytes store lipids as many droplets, and have high metabolic activity. In contrast, white fat adipocytes store lipids as a single large drop and are metabolically less active. Their effectiveness at storing large amounts of fat is witnessed in obese individuals. The number and type of adipocytes depends on the tissue and location, and vary among individuals in the population.
The mesenchymal cell is a multipotent adult stem cell.
These cells can differentiate into any type of connective tissue cells needed for repair and healing of damaged tissue.
The macrophage cell is a large cell derived from a monocyte, a type of blood cell, which enters the connective tissue matrix from the blood vessels. The macrophage cells are an essential component of the immune system, which is the body’s defense against potential pathogens and degraded host cells. When stimulated, macrophages release cytokines, small proteins that act as chemical messengers.
Cytokines recruit other cells of the immune system to infected sites and stimulate their activities. Roaming, or free, macrophages move rapidly by amoeboid movement, engulfing infectious agents and cellular debris.
In contrast, fixed macrophages are permanent residents of their tissues.
The mast cell, found in connective tissue proper, has many cytoplasmic granules. These granules contain the chemical signals histamine and heparin.
When irritated or damaged, mast cells release histamine, an inflammatory mediator, which causes vasodilation and increased blood flow at a site of injury or infection, along with itching, swelling, and redness you recognize as an allergic response. Like blood cells, mast cells are derived from hematopoietic stem cells and are part of the immune system.
Connective Tissue Fibers and Ground Substance
Three main types of fibers are secreted by fibroblasts: collagen fibers, elastic fibers, and reticular fibers.
Collagen fiber is made from fibrous protein subunits linked together to form a long and straight fiber. Collagen fibers, while flexible, have great tensile strength, resist stretching, and give ligaments and tendons their characteristic resilience and strength.
These fibers hold connective tissues together, even during the movement of the body.
Elastic fiber contains the protein elastin along with lesser amounts of other proteins and glycoproteins.
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The main property of elastin is that after being stretched or compressed, it will return to its original shape. Elastic fibers are prominent in elastic tissues found in skin and the elastic ligaments of the vertebral column.
Reticular fiber is also formed from the same protein subunits as collagen fibers; however, these fibers remain narrow and are arrayed in a branching network.
They are found throughout the body, but are most abundant in the reticular tissue of soft organs, such as liver and spleen, where they anchor and provide structural support to the parenchyma (the functional cells, blood vessels, and nerves of the organ).
All of these fiber types are embedded in ground substance.
Secreted by fibroblasts, ground substance is made of polysaccharides, specifically hyaluronic acid, and proteins. These combine to form a proteoglycan with a protein core and polysaccharide branches.
Functions of Connective Tissues
The proteoglycan attracts and traps available moisture forming the clear, viscous, colorless matrix you now know as ground substance.
Loose Connective Tissue
Loose connective tissue is found between many organs where it acts both to absorb shock and bind tissues together.
It allows water, salts, and various nutrients to diffuse through to adjacent or imbedded cells and tissues.
Adipose tissue consists mostly of fat storage cells, with little extracellular matrix (Figure 2).
A large number of capillaries allow rapid storage and mobilization of lipid molecules. White adipose tissue is most abundant.
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It can appear yellow and owes its color to carotene and related pigments from plant food. White fat contributes mostly to lipid storage and can serve as insulation from cold temperatures and mechanical injuries.
White adipose tissue can be found protecting the kidneys and cushioning the back of the eye. Brown adipose tissue is more common in infants, hence the term “baby fat.” In adults, there is a reduced amount of brown fat and it is found mainly in the neck and clavicular regions of the body.
The many mitochondria in the cytoplasm of brown adipose tissue help explain its efficiency at metabolizing stored fat.
Best transport option for tissues
Brown adipose tissue is thermogenic, meaning that as it breaks down fats, it releases metabolic heat, rather than producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key molecule used in metabolism.
Areolar tissue shows little specialization. It contains all the cell types and fibers previously described and is distributed in a random, web-like fashion. It fills the spaces between muscle fibers, surrounds blood and lymph vessels, and supports organs in the abdominal cavity.
Areolar tissue underlies most epithelia and represents the connective tissue component of epithelial membranes, which are described further in a later section.
Reticular tissue is a mesh-like, supportive framework for soft organs such as lymphatic tissue, the spleen, and the liver (Figure 3). Reticular cells produce the reticular fibers that form the network onto which other cells attach.
It derives its name from the Latin reticulus, which means “little net.”
Dense Connective Tissue
Dense connective tissue contains more collagen fibers than does loose connective tissue. As a consequence, it displays greater resistance to stretching. There are two major categories of dense connective tissue: regular and irregular.
Dense regular connective tissue fibers are parallel to each other, enhancing tensile strength and resistance to stretching in the direction of the fiber orientations. Ligaments and tendons are made of dense regular connective tissue, but in ligaments not all fibers are parallel.
Dense regular elastic tissue contains elastin fibers in addition to collagen fibers, which allows the ligament to return to its original length after stretching. The ligaments in the vocal folds and between the vertebrae in the vertebral column are elastic.
In dense irregular connective tissue, the direction of fibers is random.
What to Know About Facial Tissues
This arrangement gives the tissue greater strength in all directions and less strength in one particular direction. In some tissues, fibers crisscross and form a mesh. In other tissues, stretching in several directions is achieved by alternating layers where fibers run in the same orientation in each layer, and it is the layers themselves that are stacked at an angle.
The dermis of the skin is an example of dense irregular connective tissue rich in collagen fibers. Dense irregular elastic tissues give arterial walls the strength and the ability to regain original shape after stretching (Figure 4).
Disorders of the…
Connective Tissue: Tendinitis
Your opponent stands ready as you prepare to hit the serve, but you are confident that you will smash the ball past your opponent.
The Best Tissues of 2019
As you toss the ball high in the air, a burning pain shoots across your wrist and you drop the tennis racket. That dull ache in the wrist that you ignored through the summer is now an unbearable pain.
The game is over for now.
After examining your swollen wrist, the doctor in the emergency room announces that you have developed wrist tendinitis. She recommends icing the tender area, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to ease the pain and to reduce swelling, and complete rest for a few weeks.
She interrupts your protests that you cannot stop playing. She issues a stern warning about the risk of aggravating the condition and the possibility of surgery.
She consoles you by mentioning that well known tennis players such as Venus and Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal have also suffered from tendinitis related injuries.
What is tendinitis and how did it happen? Tendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon, the thick band of fibrous connective tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone. The condition causes pain and tenderness in the area around a joint.
On rare occasions, a sudden serious injury will cause tendinitis. Most often, the condition results from repetitive motions over time that strain the tendons needed to perform the tasks.
Persons whose jobs and hobbies involve performing the same movements over and over again are often at the greatest risk of tendinitis.
You hear of tennis and golfer’s elbow, jumper’s knee, and swimmer’s shoulder. In all cases, overuse of the joint causes a microtrauma that initiates the inflammatory response. Tendinitis is routinely diagnosed through a clinical examination.
In case of severe pain, X-rays can be examined to rule out the possibility of a bone injury. Severe cases of tendinitis can even tear loose a tendon. Surgical repair of a tendon is painful. Connective tissue in the tendon does not have abundant blood supply and heals slowly.