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Connective Tissue: Types, Functions & Disorders

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  • 0:00 Purpose of Connective Tissue
  • 1:27 Structure of Connective Tissue
  • 2:38 Types of Connective Tissues
  • 5:24 Functions of Connectiv Tissue
  • 6:14 Connective Tissue Disorders
  • 7:12 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Connective tissue is an essential part of a body. It helps hold our body together, supports other tissues and even transports substances. Learn more about its importance and take a quiz at the end.

Purpose of Connective Tissue

Imagine constructing a house using typical building components. There will be concrete for a foundation, lumber, insulation, windows and doors, roofing materials and all of the other necessary parts. But there is a catch: you cannot use anything to attach these parts together. So you may try to carefully prop up the lumber on the foundation. You can lay the wall components against the lumber and try to balance windows between boards. You may even somehow be able to lay the roof on top. But how long will this structure last? It is likely that without anything holding it together, it will soon collapse.

We can think of a body in a similar fashion. A body is a structure that is composed of many different parts. To name a few, there is a skeleton, muscle tissue, many internal organs and skin covering it all. But are these body parts simply floating loosely within a body, balanced on top of one another? The answer is certainly no. All of these components are bound together in a tight package, with all parts connecting to something else. In this lesson, we will learn about the important substances in a body that provide support, connection and separation between parts. This group of tissues is known as connective tissue.

Structure of Connective Tissue

Connective tissue is composed primarily of two elements: cells and a matrix. The types of cells found in connective tissue vary depending on the type of tissue they support. For example, red and white blood cells are found in blood, which is a fluid connective tissue. Adipocytes are fat cells found in adipose tissue, or fat. And fibroblasts are cells found in large quantities in many different types of connective tissues.

The matrix can be thought of as the substance in which the cells are embedded. The matrix can be fluid, semifluid, gelatinous, or ground substance and protein fibers. One very basic way to visualize this is to imagine Jell-O with chunks of fruit in it. Jell-O is the matrix, and the fruit represents cells. A ground substance is a supportive medium made of water and large molecules. There are three types of protein fibers found within the matrix. Collagen fibers are very strong and provide flexibility. Elastic fibers are very stretchy and assume their original shape after being stretched. Finally, reticular fibers are very thin and provide support for many soft organs and blood vessels.

Types of Connective Tissues

Connective tissue in the body comes in a variety of forms. In fetuses and embryos, we find embryonic connective tissue. Past the point of birth, there is mature connective tissue. There are six major types of mature connective tissue.

First, we will look at loose connective tissue. In this type, fibers are loosely entwined with many cells embedded. Adipose, or fat tissue, is an example of loose connective tissue. The subcutaneous tissue, or innermost layer of skin, is made up of adipose tissue, as well as areolar tissue, another loose connective tissue. If we pull on our skin, we can see that it moves around quite easily because of this loose connection.

Next, there is dense connective tissue. It has thicker, denser fibers and fewer cells. The matrix is made up mostly of collagen fibers, with fibroblasts arranged in rows. This type of connective tissue forms tendons and ligaments, which attach muscle to bone and bone to bone, respectively. If you feel the back of your leg where your heel meets your ankle, you will locate your Achilles tendon. You can feel that it is very firm and tight. It is important to have strong connections between muscle and bone for our body to move properly.

Types of Connective Tissue
Connective Tissue Types

Cartilage is the third type of connective tissue. Many of us are familiar with this flexible tissue that makes up our nose and ears. Cartilage is strong due to the collagen fibers within its matrix, and it is resilient due to a gel matrix. Cartilage is also found in the body as a cushion within the skeletal system.

Bones are a fourth example of connective tissue. Bones are made up of different types of connective tissue, including bone tissue and marrow. Bone tissue is either spongy or compact depending on the organization of the cells and matrix.

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