Prof. Taina Pihlajaniemi & Adj. Prof. Ritva Heljasvaara

The Pihlajaniemi & Heljasvaara research group investigates the role of extracellular matrix (ECM), especially evolutionarily conserved multiplexin and MACIT collagens, in organ development, tissue homeostasis and in fibrotic and malignant processes. The aim is to use the new knowledge to design novel bioassays and therapeutic approaches.

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Besides conferring shape and stability to tissues, the extracellular matrix (ECM) plays a crucial role in controlling cell differentiation and function, and it is associated with a wide spectrum of common diseases including skeletal deformities, fibrosis, cancer, poor wound healing as well as neuromuscular and metabolic diseases. The collagen family of proteins plays a dominant role in maintaining the integrity of tissues. Twenty-nine types of collagen have been found in vertebrates, and we address the physiological and pathological significance of two evolutionarily conserved subgroups of collagens, the ubiquitously occurring basement membrane (BM)-associated collagens XV and XVIII, also called the multiplexin subgroup of collagens, and the structurally homologous transmembrane collagens XIII, XXIII and XXV. These collagens perform not only structural functions but also have important regulatory roles in the pericellular environment in supporting cell growth and differentiation.