Abstract

Connective tissue (ConT) remodeling is an essential process in tissue regeneration, where a balanced replacement of old tissue by new tissue occurs. This balance is disturbed in chronic diseases, often autoimmune diseases, usually resulting in the buld up of fibrosis and a gradual loss of organ function. During progression of liver, lung, skin, heart, joint, skeletal and kidney diseasesboth ConT formation and degradation are elevated, which is tightly linked to immune cell activation and a loss of specific cell types and extracellular matrix (ECM) structures that are required for normal organ function. Here, we address the balance of key general and organ specific components of the ECM during homeostasis and in disease, with a focus on collagens, which are emerging as both structural and signaling molecules harbouring neoepitopes and autoantigens that are released during ConT remodeling. Specific collagen molecular signatures of ConT remodeling are linked to disease activity and stage, and to prognosis across different organs. These signatures accompany and further drive disease progression, and often become detectable before clinical disease manifestation (illness). Recent advances allow to quantify and define the nature of ConT remodeling via blood-based assays that measure the levels of well-defined collagen fragments, reflecting different facets of ConT formation and degradation, and associated immunological processes. These novel serum assays are becoming important tools of precision medicine, to detect various chronic and autoimmune diseases before their clinical manifestation, and to non-invasively monitor the efficacy of a broad range of pharmacological interventions.

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