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Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg. 2019 Jan 2. doi: 10.1093/icvts/ivy339. [Epub ahead of print]

Mechanical stress alters the expression of calcification-related genes in vascular interstitial and endothelial cells.

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Division of Physiology, Department of Molecular Medicine, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
Department of Cardiology, Akershus University Hospital, Lørenskog, Norway.
Department of Nutrition, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Almazov National Medical Research Centre, Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Department of Cardiac Surgery, Almazov National Medical Research Centre, Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Department of Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.
Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
Saint-Petersburg State University, Saint Petersburg, Russia.



Vascular wall calcification is a major pathophysiological component of atherosclerotic disease with many similarities to osteogenesis. Mechanical stress of the vascular wall may theoretically contribute to the proliferative processes by endothelial and interstitial cells. The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of mechanical stress on the expression of some calcification-related genes in primary human endothelial and interstitial cells, and how endothelial cells may stimulate the fibroblast and smooth muscle cells.


Human umbilical vein endothelial and interstitial cells were subjected to cyclic stretch using a FlexCell® bioreactor, and interstitial cells were also subjected to tensile strain in cultures embedded in 3-dimensional collagen gels. The medium from endothelial cells was used to stimulate the gel-cultured interstitial cells, or the endothelium was sown directly on top. For comparison, human endothelial and smooth muscle cells were isolated from aortic wall fragments of patients with and without the aortic aneurysm. The expression of genes was measured using quantitative PCR.


Four hours of cyclic stretch applied to cultured endothelial cells upregulated the mRNA expression of bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2), a major procalcific growth factor. When applied to a 3-dimensional culture of vascular interstitial cells, the medium from prestretched endothelial cells decreased the expression of BMP-2 and periostin mRNA in the fibroblasts. The static tension in gel-cultured interstitial cells upregulated BMP-2 mRNA expression. The addition of endothelial cells on the top of this culture also reduced mRNA of anticalcific genes, periostin and osteopontin. Similar changes were observed in smooth muscle cells from human aortic aneurysms compared to cells from the healthy aorta. Aortic aneurysm endothelial cells also showed an increased expression of BMP-2 mRNA.


Endothelial cells respond to mechanical stress by upregulation of pro-osteogenic factor BMP-2 mRNA and modulate the expression of other osteogenic factors in vascular interstitial cells. Endothelial cells may, thus, contribute to vascular calcification when exposed to mechanical stress.


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