Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 715 - 723 (2000)
© UPV/EHU Press

Role of the extracellular matrix and growth factors in skull morphogenesis and in the pathogenesis of craniosynostosis.

P Carinci, E Becchetti and M Bodo

Istituto di Istologia ed Embriologia generale, Università degli Studi di Bologna, Italy. carinci@alma.unibo.it

ABSTRACT The complex and largely obscure regulatory processes that underlie ossification and fusion of the sutures during skull morphogenesis are dependent on the conditions of the extracellular microenvironment. The concept that growth factors are involved in the pathophysiology of craniosynostosis due to premature fusion of skull bone sutures, is supported by recent genetic data. Crouzon and Apert syndromes, for example, are characterized by point mutations in the extracellular or transmembrane domains of fibroblast growth factor-2 receptor. In primary cultures of periosteal fibroblasts and osteoblasts obtained from Apert and Crouzon patients, we observed that Crouzon and Apert cells behaved differently with respect to normal cells as regards the expression of cytokines and extracellular matrix (ECM) macromolecule accumulation. Further modulation of ECM components observed after the addition of cytokines provides support for an autocrine involvement of these cytokines in Crouzon and Apert phenotype. Changes in ECM composition could explain the altered osteogenic process and account for pathological variations in cranial development. We suggest that a correlation exists between in vitro phenotype, clinical features and genotype in the two craniosynostotic syndromes. New research into signal transduction pathways should establish further connections between the mutated genotype and the molecular biology of the cellular phenotype.