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Flow detection and calcium signalling in vascular endothelial cells

Joji Ando, Kimiko Yamamoto
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cvr/cvt084 First published online: 9 April 2013


Blood vessels alter their morphology and function in response to changes in blood flow, and their responses are based on blood flow detection by the vascular endothelium. Endothelial cells (ECs) covering the inner surface of blood vessels sense shear stress generated by flowing blood and transmit the signal into the interior of the cell, which evokes a cellular response. The EC response to shear stress is closely linked to the regulation of vascular tone, blood coagulation and fibrinolysis, angiogenesis, and vascular remodelling, and it plays an important role in maintaining the homoeostasis of the circulatory system. Impairment of the EC response to shear stress leads to the development of vascular diseases such as hypertension, thrombosis, aneurysms, and atherosclerosis. Rapid progress has been made in elucidating shear stress mechanotransduction by using in vitro methods that apply controlled levels of shear stress to cultured ECs in fluid-dynamically designed flow-loading devices. The results have revealed that shear stress is converted into intracellular biochemical signals that are mediated by a variety of membrane molecules and microdomains, including ion channels, receptors, G-proteins, adhesion molecules, the cytoskeleton, caveolae, the glycocalyx, and primary cilia, and that multiple downstream signalling pathways become activated almost simultaneously. Nevertheless, neither the shear-stress-sensing mechanisms nor the sensor molecules that initially sense shear stress are yet known. Their identification would contribute to a better understanding of the pathophysiology of the vascular diseases that occur in a blood flow-dependent manner and to the development of new treatments for them.

  • Endothelial cell
  • Shear stress
  • Mechanotransduction
  • Caveolae
  • Calcium (cellular)
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