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The Extracellular Matrix and Ground Regulation: Basis for a Holistic Biological Medicine

Review by James Odell, OMD, ND, L.Ac.

blue book cover for The Extracellular Matrix and Ground regulation

The Extracellular Matrix and Ground Regulation: Basis for a Holistic Biological Medicine hardcover by Alfred Pischinger is a must-read for any student of biology or medicine. This updated English-language translation not only is an account of the work of Pischinger’s successors—Heine, Otto Bergsmann, and Felix Perger, (the three editors of this volume) and their many colleagues—but notes the positive development of complementary therapies based on this understanding of histology.


Alfred Pischinger (1899-1982) was an Austrian physician and physiologist, best known for his contributions to histology, endocrinology, and cell biology. He received his doctorate in Medicine from the University of Graz in 1923. Due to his first published works, he is considered one of the founders of histochemistry. In 1948, he began to understand and describe the role played by the extracellular matrix (ECM) that surrounds the cell, discovering its extraordinary bioregulatory role. Until then it had been considered a simple scaffolding or support tissue. Pischinger continued further studying from 1926 through the late seventies the connections of the ECM to the hormonal and autonomic systems. In 1958 he became head of the Department of Histology and Embryology at the University of Vienna., where he remained until his retirement in 1970.


Pischinger discovered that the most elementary basic functions of life are carried out in the ECM, such as the exchange of water, oxygen, and electrolytes, the acid / alkaline regulation of free radicals, and processes related to non-specific defense systems. Evidence has now accumulated that the ECM is a body-wide communication system that is essential to all living functions. This living matrix includes the extracellular sugar–protein biopolymers or ground substances, the collagens, water molecules, as well as the basement membranes, cytoskeletons, nuclear matrices, and genetic material. It has become clearer that the bioregulatory origins of disease and its first signals register in the ECM.


Pischinger’s work and that of his colleagues demonstrated more than any other that the ECM is not an inert filler substance or a passive mechanical filter, lying between the capillaries and the cells. Instead, the matrix is a dynamic and vibrant and alive component of the organism with vital roles in the moment-by-moment operations of virtually all physiological processes. Under appropriate conditions, the matrix can react quickly as a unit. Signals can spread virtually instantly throughout the entire intermeshed system in an autocatalytic or chain-reaction manner. The proteoglycans in the ground substance in particular can react to stimulation of various kinds with a form of depolarization that can be rapidly propagated throughout the matrix system. This depolarization resembles the depolarization of a neuron in that it allows the transmission of bioenergy and information over great distances. Unlike the neuron, this depolarization is not ‘‘all or none’’ or digital in nature. Instead, it is an analog system, with the degree of depolarization proportional to the intensity of the stimulus.


Pischinger expanded on Virchow’s ‘‘cellular pathology’’ model (Virchow, 1859) by stating that the smallest common denominator of life in the vertebrate organism is not the cell, but is a triad: capillary-matrix-cell. On the basis of thermodynamic, energetic, and geometrical considerations, it has been concluded that the molecules of the ground substance form minimal physical and minimal electrical surfaces. The mathematics of minimal surfaces reveals that tiny changes in one area can cause large changes in distant areas of the ground substance. These concepts have implications for virtually all physiological and biochemical processes, membrane transport, antigen–antibody interactions, protein synthesis, oxidation reactions, and transformations in polysaccharides.


In the last twenty years, Professor and Doctor of Natural Sciences Hartmut Heine and his colleagues have carried on Pischinger’s work, here summarized in one volume. Part One encompasses theoretical underpinnings; Parts Two and Three address applications and directions for further research. This book is important for all therapists because it provides a holistic perspective founded on biomedical and clinical research. Pischinger recognized that the body-wide ‘‘ground regulation system’’ is responsible for all vital functions including nutrition of cells, removal of wastes, inflammation, defense, and injury repair.


The Extracellular Matrix and Ground Regulation is a comprehensive guide to understanding the ECM involved in various diseases and in holistic biological medicine. Pischinger’s writing is clear and concise, providing detailed examples of how the ECM affects the body’s processes, and how it can be used to treat various conditions.


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