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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2007 Mar;292(3):H1209-24. Epub 2006 Nov 10.

Mechanotransduction and endothelial cell homeostasis: the wisdom of the cell.

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  • Dept of Bioengineering, PFBH, Rm 134, Univ of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0412, USA. shuchien@ucsd.edu


Vascular endothelial cells (ECs) play significant roles in regulating circulatory functions. Mechanical stimuli, including the stretch and shear stress resulting from circulatory pressure and flow, modulate EC functions by activating mechanosensors, signaling pathways, and gene and protein expressions. Mechanical forces with a clear direction (e.g., the pulsatile shear stress and the uniaxial circumferential stretch existing in the straight part of the arterial tree) cause only transient molecular signaling of pro-inflammatory and proliferative pathways, which become downregulated when such directed mechanical forces are sustained. In contrast, mechanical forces without a definitive direction (e.g., disturbed flow and relatively undirected stretch seen at branch points and other regions of complex geometry) cause sustained molecular signaling of pro-inflammatory and proliferative pathways. The EC responses to directed mechanical stimuli involve the remodeling of EC structure to minimize alterations in intracellular stress/strain and elicit adaptive changes in EC signaling in the face of sustained stimuli; these cellular events constitute a feedback control mechanism to maintain vascular homeostasis and are atheroprotective. Such a feedback mechanism does not operate effectively in regions of complex geometry, where the mechanical stimuli do not have clear directions, thus placing these areas at risk for atherogenesis. The mechanotransduction-induced EC adaptive processes in the straight part of the aorta represent a case of the "Wisdom of the Cell," as a part of the more general concept of the "Wisdom of the Body" promulgated by Cannon, to maintain cellular homeostasis in the face of external perturbations.

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