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L i s te n to T h e A B M P Po d c a s t a t a b m m /p o d c a s t s o r w h e reve r yo u a cce s s yo u r favo r i te p o d c a s t s 77 critical thinking | BODY OF WONDER The Endless Labor of the Fibroblast By David Lesondak Wherever you live, it's almost certain you have a Public Works Department. Public works cares for much of the local infrastructure, including things like streetlights, sidewalks, and roadside gardens and trees. But chances are, you don't think about public works except when they're inconveniencing you. You'll see workers in their brightly colored, fluorescent garb digging up a street to fix a water line and creating a detour that's going to make you late to work. But they're out there, doing a necessary—and mostly thankless— job. They're a lot like the fibroblast, my favorite cell of the more than 200 cell types we have in our bodies. REQUIRED MAINTENANCE Fibroblasts make up our inner public works department; they maintain our collagen infrastructure by building, demolishing, cleaning up, and even rendering emergency aid when there's an injury like a cut on the skin. Fibroblasts are the most abundant cells in fascia. They arise primarily from the mesoderm (the middle layer of the embryo). I use the term layer here because some regard the mesoderm as not a layer at all, but rather a liminal space between the inner endoderm and the outer ectoderm. But it's useful to think of the mesoderm as a layer, since it functions to create the biological collagen scaffold that gives structure to our insides (e.g., our organs) as well as our outsides (our head, limbs, nervous system, and skin), and keeps them separate but also interconnected. The fibroblasts are the cells dressed in f luorescent- colored shirts, and they're always busy. They produce the fibers of collagen and elastin in the connective tissue matrix as well as the components of ground substance, the gel-like base of all connective tissue. When we cut ourselves, fibroblasts in the area will suddenly express strong contractile properties—called myofibroblasts—to help close the wound. Furthermore, the fibroblasts are connected to each other via long cellular extensions called filopodia. If you imagine the fascial matrix as a body-wide web, the fibroblasts are the spiders that are responsible for the production and maintenance of that web. All these spiders are also connected to each other, forming their own network of connections within the interconnected web of fascia. In essence, the fibroblasts form a body-wide signaling network. While the fibroblasts are also involved in inf lammation and immune function, too much fibroblast and myofibroblast activity is implicated in both fibrosis and chronic contracture conditions like Dupuytren's TAKEAWAY: Fibroblasts remodel fascia, creating or removing collagen based on physical supply and demand.

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