Biological Communication at the Microenvironment-Scale

The cellular microenvironment plays a fundamental role in disease by coupling signals from endogenous cellular and environmental stressors.

The microenvironment is a critical supporter of healthy cells and the conduit of biological information in tissues. A healthy microenvironment includes the biochemical and biophysical signals that a cell receives from the extracellular matrix (ECM), neighboring cells, and the immune system; and is necessary for a cell and tissue to maintain its function and autoregulatory ability. BrSM considers both the cell and its ECM as the collective functional unit in higher organisms. The ECM is an informational entity that integrates structural and functional signals to allow for differentiation in cell shape and structure. Communication between the ECM and the cell nucleus is dynamic and reciprocal. In this context the microenvironment can be considered as the “terrain” of the body where signals of various origins are coupled and processed, and can influence the robustness of molecular networks. Environmental toxins and metabolic waste products can accumulate in the ECM and cause disease. As a cellular information exchange center, the ECM is involved in the progression of almost any chronic disease, suggesting that molecules associated with ECM metabolism may serve as biomarkers for disease progression. The involvement of the microenvironment in nearly all pathological conditions positions microenvironment-scale information regulation as an influential process at the local and systemic levels, and as a focal point for therapeutic development.