Introducing J-TEC

Matrices are essential
for cells' existence

As we saw last time, our bodies are made up of about 60 trillion cells. These many cells each differentiate appropriately to play their roles as part of the body. Yes, the bodies of living organisms are made up of such cells. So then, are our entire bodies filled with cells? It seems that this is not the case. This time we will talk about the "matrix", a substance that is very important in the construction of our bodies.

I would like you to stop for a moment and try to imagine how the body might be composed of many cells, based on what we have been talking about thus far. This would be a kind of configuration in which individual cells that are alive like microorganisms clump together to create body parts. It might be a bit of a jumble, but they somehow come together as one. It would be as if the cells were joining hands (sticking together) to form a mass of tissue. But in actuality, this is not the way the body is structured. This is where the substance known as the matrix comes in.

The "matrix" is a very important substance in our bodies (You are probably familiar with this word from the movies, and since there is no corresponding term in Japanese, we simply use a Japanized pronunciation of the same word). We say this because the cells in our bodies exist within a framework consisting of a "substance" known as matrix (Also known as the extracellular matrix because it is outside the cells). It is as if the cells were embedded in the holes of a sponge called the matrix.

There are various types of matrix, depending on the part of the body. For example, in the bones, the cells that make up the bones fit into a hard matrix that is primarily composed of a substance called calcium. This matrix is produced by the cells that make up the bones to begin with, and it is as if they have produced a hard matrix by themselves and are living in it. This is why it is said that our bones will become weak if we do not get enough calcium from our diet. If we consider the skin (particularly the part of the skin a bit below the surface, which is known as the dermis), a kind of matrix that is familiar to you all comes into the picture, i.e., collagen. For the most part, the skin consists of cells called fibroblasts embedded in this collagen. In this case as well, it is as if the fibroblasts were making a home of the collagen that they themselves produced. You may have heard ads for dietary supplements that "contain collagen for the care of the skin", etc. There are many different types of collagen, and it is a very important matrix substance in the composition of body parts other than the skin as well.

Of course, unlike the cells, the matrix itself is not alive. It is a substance made up of proteins and inorganic matter. However, it provides a very important place in which the cells can carry out their activities, and it is something without which our bodies could never be built. The cells create this structure themselves as a place to live in and then live in it. Creating the matrix is essential to their survival.