Connective tissue is one of the four basic types of animal tissue, along with epithelial tissue, muscle tissue, and nervous tissue. It develops from the mesoderm. Connective tissue is found in between other tissues everywhere in the body, including the nervous system. In the central nervous system, the three outer membranes (the meninges) that envelop the brain and spinal cord are composed of connective tissue. All connective tissue consists of three main components: fibers (elastic and collagen fibers), ground substance and cells. Not all authorities include blood or lymph as connective tissue because they lack the fiber component. All are immersed in the body water. The cells of connective tissue include fibroblasts, adipocytes, macrophages, mast cells and leucocytes.
Connective tissue can be broadly classified into connective tissue proper and special connective tissue. Connective tissue proper consists of loose connective tissue and dense connective tissue (which is further subdivided into dense regular and dense irregular connective tissues.) Loose and dense connective tissue are distinguished by the ratio of ground substance to fibrous tissue. Loose connective tissue has much more ground substance and a relative lack of fibrous tissue, while the reverse is true of dense connective tissue. Dense regular connective tissue, found in structures such as tendons and ligaments, is characterized by collagen fibers arranged in an orderly parallel fashion, giving it tensile strength in one direction. Dense irregular connective tissue provides strength in multiple directions by its dense bundles of fibers arranged in all directions.
Special connective tissue consists of reticular connective tissue, adipose tissue, cartilage, bone, and blood. Other kinds of connective tissues include fibrous, elastic, and lymphoid connective tissues. Fibroareolar tissue is a mix of fibrous and areolar tissue. Fibromuscular tissue is made up of fibrous tissue and muscular tissue. New vascularised connective tissue that forms in the process of wound healing is termed granulation tissue.
Ground substance is a clear, colorless, and viscous fluid containing glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans to fix the collagen fibers in the intercellular spaces. Examples of non-fibrous connective tissue include adipose tissue (fat) and blood. Adipose tissue gives "mechanical cushioning" to the body, among other functions. Although there is no dense collagen network in adipose tissue, groups of adipose cells are kept together by collagen fibers and collagen sheets in order to keep fat tissue under compression in place (for example, the sole of the foot). Both the ground substance and proteins (fibers) create the matrix for connective tissue.
|Collagen fibers||Bind bones and other tissues to each other||Alpha polypeptide chains||tendon, ligament, skin, cornea, cartilage, bone, blood vessels, gut, and intervertebral disc.|
|Elastic fibers||Allow organs like arteries and lungs to recoil||Elastic microfibril and elastin||extracellular matrix|
|Reticular fibers||Form a scaffolding for other cells||Type III collagen||liver, bone marrow, and lymphatic organs|
Connective tissue has a wide variety of functions that depend on the types of cells and the different classes of fibers involved. Loose and dense irregular connective tissue, formed mainly by fibroblasts and collagen fibers, have an important role in providing a medium for oxygen and nutrients to diffuse from capillaries to cells, and carbon dioxide and waste substances to diffuse from cells back into circulation. They also allow organs to resist stretching and tearing forces. Dense regular connective tissue, which forms organized structures, is a major functional component of tendons, ligaments and aponeuroses, and is also found in highly specialized organs such as the cornea. Elastic fibers, made from elastin and fibrillin, also provide resistance to stretch forces. They are found in the walls of large blood vessels and in certain ligaments, particularly in the ligamenta flava.
Mesenchyme is a type of connective tissue found in developing organs of embryos that is capable of differentiation into all types of mature connective tissue. Another type of relatively undifferentiated connective tissue is the mucous connective tissue known as Wharton's jelly, found inside the umbilical cord.
Various types of specialized tissues and cells are classified under the spectrum of connective tissue, and are as diverse as brown and white adipose tissue, blood, cartilage and bone. Cells of the immune system, such as macrophages, mast cells, plasma cells and eosinophils are found scattered in loose connective tissue, providing the ground for starting inflammatory and immune responses upon the detection of antigens.
There are many types of connective tissue disorders, such as: