Hepatic stellate cells are located in the perisinusoidal space (space of Disse), and extend their dendritic, thin membranous processes and fine fibrillar processes into this space. The stellate cells coexist with a three-dimensional extracellular matrix (ECM) in the perisinusoidal space. In turn the three-dimensional structure of the ECM regulates the proliferation, morphology, and functions of the stellate cell. In this review, the morphology of sites of adhesion between hepatic stellate cells and extracellular matrix is described. Hepatic stellate cells cultured in polystyrene dishes spread well, whereas the cells cultured on or in type I collagen gel become slender and elongate their long cellular processes which adhere directly to the collagen fibers. Cells in type I collagen gel form a large number of adhesive structures, each adhesive area forming a face but not a point. Adhesion molecules, integrins, for the ECM are localized on the cell surface. Elongation of the cellular processes occurs via integrin-binding to type I collagen fibers. The signal transduction mechanism, including protein and phosphatidylinositol phosphorylation, is critical to induce and sustain the cellular processes. Information on the three-dimensional structures of ECM is transmitted via three-dimensional adhesive structures containing the integrins.
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