The basement membrane is a thin, fibrous, extracellular matrix of tissue that separates the epithelium (skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, etc.), mesothelium (pleural cavity, peritoneal cavity, pericardial cavity, etc.) and endothelium (blood vessels, lymph vessels, etc.) from underlying connective tissue.
As seen with electron microscope, the basement membrane is composed of two layers, the basal lamina and the underlying layer of reticular connective tissue. The underlying connective tissue attaches to the basal lamina with collagen VII anchoring fibrils and fibrillin microfibrils. The two layers together are collectively referred to as the basement membrane.
The basal lamina layer can further be divided into two layers. The clear layer closer to the epithelium is called the lamina lucida, while the dense layer closer to the connective tissue is called the lamina densa. The electron-dense lamina densa membrane is about 30–70 nanometers thick, and consists of an underlying network of reticular collagen IV fibrils which average 30 nanometers in diameter and 0.1–2 micrometers in thickness. In addition to collagen, this supportive matrix contains intrinsic macromolecular components. The lamina densa, whose collagen IV fibers are coated with the heparan sulfate-rich proteoglycan perlecan, and the lamina lucida (made up of laminin, integrins, entactins, and dystroglycans) together make up the basal lamina.
Integrins are not part of the basal lamina, they are part of desmosomes which are in the basement membrane but not the basal lamina.
To represent the above in a visually organised manner, the basement membrane is organized as follows:
- Basement membrane
- Basal lamina
- Attaching proteins (between the basal and reticular laminae)
- Lamina reticularis
- Connective tissue (inner)
Function and importance
The primary function of the basement membrane is to anchor down the epithelium to its loose connective tissue (the dermis) underneath. This is achieved by cell-matrix adhesions through substrate adhesion molecules (SAMs).
The basement membrane acts as a mechanical barrier, preventing malignant cells from invading the deeper tissues. Early stages of malignancy that are thus limited to the epithelial layer by the basement membrane are called carcinoma in situ.
The most notable examples of basement membranes is the glomerular basement membrane of the kidney, by the fusion of the basal lamina from the endothelium of glomerular capillaries and the podocyte basal lamina, and between lung alveoli and pulmonary capillaries, by the fusion of the basal lamina of the lung alveoli and of the basal lamina of the lung capillaries, which is where oxygen and CO2 diffusion happens.
Some diseases result from a poorly functioning basement membrane. The cause can be genetic defects, injuries by the body's own immune system, or other mechanisms.
Genetic defects in the collagen fibers of the basement membrane cause Alport syndrome.
A group of diseases stemming from improper function of basement membrane zone are united under the name epidermolysis bullosa.
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