What is a Fibroblast?
A fibroblast is a type of cell which is responsible for making connective tissue. Fibroblasts play a critical role in making up the large majority of the bulk of an organism, and they can be found in huge numbers all over the body. These cells can differentiate into cells responsible for producing several different kinds of connective tissue, including chondroblasts, which are responsible for making collagen, and osteoblasts, which make bone.
Fibroblasts have two different stages. When the cell is actively dividing and making connective tissue, it is known as a fibroblast. When it goes dormant, it becomes a fibrocyte. Fibrocytes change shape, becoming more cylindrical over time, which makes them easy to identify, and they can be seen along the margins of many types of connective tissue.
These cells arise from mesenchymal stem cells, stem cells which are capable of differentiating into several different kinds of cells as they are needed. These cells are present from birth in the body, and they can be seen at varying levels of activity depending on age, physical condition, and other factors. The body is constantly developing more fibroblasts in response to emerging conditions and various issues, ranging from growth spurts to broken bones.
Fibroblasts help to maintain the structural integrity of the body, by constantly reinforcing the connective tissues so that their density and condition is maintained. As cells die and are absorbed, fibroblasts make more to address the change. Fibroblasts are also involved in the production of the ground substance, a non-cellular component of the extracellular matrix which includes a variety of proteins and other compounds.
A fibroblast can also play a role in tissue repair. When someone is cut, for example, fibroblasts are part of the body's response team, acting to repair the wound while other cells prevent infection. One could think of fibroblasts as a construction crew which is designed to be highly skilled and very flexible so that it can respond quickly to emerging problems. The body can also produce more fibroblasts as needed.
When someone develops a disorder which inhibits the production or function of fibroblasts, it can become quite problematic. The connective tissue is critically important, and it can become degraded or lost over time, leading to muscle weakness and a variety of other symptoms. Doctors can sometimes identify such disorders by looking at a fibroblast under the microscope, or culturing a fibroblast sample from a patient to look for abnormalities.
As we age, the fibroblasts must somehow change, because they do not perform as effectively as they do when we are young. With the condition of osteoporosis, the decrease in the bone density can lead to easily fractured bones. Why don't the fibroblasts build up the bone faster? Why do some people develop this condition and others don't?
Another condition that comes with age is osteoarthritis. We get suggestions about how to prevent and treat this problem, but what actually triggers the breakdown of the connective tissues so bones are rubbing against bone?
Those little fibroblast cells are quite the workers. They're always providing collagen and bone. When our bodies are growing, we need fibroblast cells to keep the process going until we reach our potential.
But when we get to be about thirty, our bone strength and density break down faster than they are built up.
When we get a cut or broken bone, the fibroblast cells step up their action to heal the injury. I'm sure we have a lot more to learn about the function of fibroblasts and why they slow down as we age.
Since fibroblasts are responsible down the line for collagen production, they must undergo changes as the body ages. As the skin loses its ability to bounce back and starts to sag, we know that fibroblasts must have changed for this to have happened.
In addition to changes in appearance, fibroblasts in aging people can cause changes in health as well. I read about a study involving fibroblast changes and aging. In mammals, researchers found that the higher risk of developing cancer that comes with aging is related to the decreased function of fibroblasts.
My young son is very curious about the inner workings of the body. When a dog bit a big chunk out of the palm of his hand, he wanted to learn the biology of the healing process. He learned a little about fibroblasts.
He got online and discovered that a wound shrinks through the action of myofibroblasts. These secure a grip on the edges of the wound. Once they have a good hold, they can contract themselves in much the same way that smooth muscle cells do.
Fibroblasts are like nature’s stitches. They automatically react to bond wounds like little threads and doctors rolled into one.
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