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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Identify and distinguish between the types of connective tissue: proper, supportive, and fluid
  • Explain the functions of connective tissues

As may be obvious from its name, one of the major functions of connective tissue is to connect tissues and organs. Unlike epithelial tissue, which is composed of cells closely packed with little or no extracellular space in between, connective tissue cells are dispersed in a matrix    . The matrix usually includes a large amount of extracellular material produced by the connective tissue cells that are embedded within it. The matrix plays a major role in the functioning of this tissue. The major component of the matrix is a ground substance    often crisscrossed by protein fibers. This ground substance is usually a fluid, but it can also be mineralized and solid, as in bones. Connective tissues come in a vast variety of forms, yet they typically have in common three characteristic components: cells, large amounts of amorphous ground substance, and protein fibers. The amount and structure of each component correlates with the function of the tissue, from the rigid ground substance in bones supporting the body to the inclusion of specialized cells; for example, a phagocytic cell that engulfs pathogens and also rids tissue of cellular debris.

Functions of connective tissues

Connective tissues perform many functions in the body, but most importantly, they support and connect other tissues; from the connective tissue sheath that surrounds muscle cells, to the tendons that attach muscles to bones, and to the skeleton that supports the positions of the body. Protection is another major function of connective tissue, in the form of fibrous capsules and bones that protect delicate organs and, of course, the skeletal system. Specialized cells in connective tissue defend the body from microorganisms that enter the body. Transport of fluid, nutrients, waste, and chemical messengers is ensured by specialized fluid connective tissues, such as blood and lymph. Adipose cells store surplus energy in the form of fat and contribute to the thermal insulation of the body.

Embryonic connective tissue

All connective tissues derive from the mesodermal layer of the embryo (see [link] ). The first connective tissue to develop in the embryo is mesenchyme    , the stem cell line from which all connective tissues are later derived. Clusters of mesenchymal cells are scattered throughout adult tissue and supply the cells needed for replacement and repair after a connective tissue injury. A second type of embryonic connective tissue forms in the umbilical cord, called mucous connective tissue    or Wharton’s jelly. This tissue is no longer present after birth, leaving only scattered mesenchymal cells throughout the body.

Classification of connective tissues

The three broad categories of connective tissue are classified according to the characteristics of their ground substance and the types of fibers found within the matrix ( [link] ). Connective tissue proper includes loose connective tissue    and dense connective tissue    . Both tissues have a variety of cell types and protein fibers suspended in a viscous ground substance. Dense connective tissue is reinforced by bundles of fibers that provide tensile strength, elasticity, and protection. In loose connective tissue, the fibers are loosely organized, leaving large spaces in between. Supportive connective tissue —bone and cartilage—provide structure and strength to the body and protect soft tissues. A few distinct cell types and densely packed fibers in a matrix characterize these tissues. In bone, the matrix is rigid and described as calcified because of the deposited calcium salts. In fluid connective tissue    , in other words, lymph and blood, various specialized cells circulate in a watery fluid containing salts, nutrients, and dissolved proteins.

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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