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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2010 Nov;299(5):L631-8. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00087.2010. Epub 2010 Aug 13.

Dense-body aggregates as plastic structures supporting tension in smooth muscle cells.

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James Hogg Centre for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Research, Providence Heart and Lung Institute, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


The wall of hollow organs of vertebrates is a unique structure able to generate active tension and maintain a nearly constant passive stiffness over a large volume range. These properties are predominantly attributable to the smooth muscle cells that line the organ wall. Although smooth muscle is known to possess plasticity (i.e., the ability to adapt to large changes in cell length through structural remodeling of contractile apparatus and cytoskeleton), the detailed structural basis for the plasticity is largely unknown. Dense bodies, one of the most prominent structures in smooth muscle cells, have been regarded as the anchoring sites for actin filaments, similar to the Z-disks in striated muscle. Here, we show that the dense bodies and intermediate filaments formed cable-like structures inside airway smooth muscle cells and were able to adjust the cable length according to cell length and tension. Stretching the muscle cell bundle in the relaxed state caused the cables to straighten, indicating that these intracellular structures were connected to the extracellular matrix and could support passive tension. These plastic structures may be responsible for the ability of smooth muscle to maintain a nearly constant tensile stiffness over a large length range. The finding suggests that the structural plasticity of hollow organs may originate from the dense-body cables within the smooth muscle cells.

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