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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2008 Sep;295(3):L479-88. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00421.2007. Epub 2008 Jun 27.

Airway smooth muscle cell tone amplifies contractile function in the presence of chronic cyclic strain.

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School of Biomedical Engineering, Dalhousie Univ., 5981 Univ. Ave., Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 1W2, Canada.


Chronic contractile activation, or tone, in asthma coupled with continuous stretching due to breathing may be involved in altering the contractile function of airway smooth muscle (ASM). Previously, we (11) showed that cytoskeletal remodeling and stiffening responses to acute (2 h) localized stresses were modulated by the level of contractile activation of ASM. Here, we investigated if altered contractility in response to chronic mechanical strain was dependent on repeated modulation of contractile tone. Cultured human ASM cells received 5% cyclic (0.3 Hz), predominantly uniaxial strain for 5 days, with once-daily dosing of either sham, forskolin, carbachol, or histamine to alter tone. Stiffness, contractility (KCl), and "relaxability" (forskolin) were then measured as was cell alignment, myosin light-chain phosphorylation (pMLC), and myosin light-chain kinase (MLCK) content. Cells became aligned and baseline stiffness increased with strain, but repeated lowering of tone inhibited both effects (P < 0.05). Strain also reversed a negative tone-modulation dependence of MLCK, observed in static conditions in agreement with previous reports, with strain and tone together increasing both MLCK and pMLC. Furthermore, contractility increased 176% (SE 59) with repeated tone elevation. These findings indicate that with strain, and not without, repeated tone elevation promoted contractile function through changes in cytoskeletal organization and increased contractile protein. The ability of repeated contractile activation to increase contractility, but only with mechanical stretching, suggests a novel mechanism for increased ASM contractility in asthma and for the role of continuous bronchodilator and corticosteroid therapy in reversing airway hyperresponsiveness.

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