By virtue of their multifunctional nature, proteoglycans (PGs) are thought to govern the process of cell movement in numerous physiological and pathological contexts, spanning from early embryonic development to tumour invasion and metastasis. The precise mode by which they influence this process is still fragmentary, but evidence is accruing that they may affect it in a multifaceted manner. PGs bound to the plasma membrane mediate the polyvalent interaction of the cell with matrix constituents and with molecules of the neighbouring cells' surfaces; they modulate the activity of receptors implicated in the recognition of these components; and they participate in the perception and convergence of growth- and motility-promoting cues contributed by soluble factors. Through some of these interactions several PGs transduce to pro-motile cells crucial intracellular signals that are likely to be essential for their mobility. A regulated shedding of certain membrane-intercalated PGs seems to provide an additional level of control of cell movement. Coincidentally, matrix-associated PGs may govern cell migration by structuring permissive and non-permissive migratory paths and, when directly secreted by the moving cells, may alternatively create favourable or hostile microenvironments. To exert this latter, indirect effect on cell movement, matrix PGs strongly rely upon their primary molecular partners, such as hyaluronan, link proteins, tenascins, collagens and low-affinity cell surface receptors, whereas a further finer control is provided by a highly regulated proteolytic processing of the PGs accounted by both the migrating cells themselves and cells of their surrounding tissues. Overall, PGs seem to play an important role in determining the migratory phenotype of a cell by initiating, directing and terminating cell movement in a spatio-temporally controlled fashion. This implies that the "anti-adhesive and/or "anti-migratory" properties that have previously been assigned to certain PGs may be re-interpreted as being a means by which these macromolecules elaborate haptotaxis-like mechanisms imposing directionality upon the moving cells. Since these conditions would allow cells to be led to given tissue locations and become immobilized at these sites, a primary function may be ascribed to PGs in the dictation of a "stop or go" choice of the migrating cells. © 2005 Elsevier B.V./International Society of Matrix Biology. All rights reserved.
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