Shear-induced endothelial cell-cell junction inclination

Benoît Melchior, John A. Frangos


Atheroprone regions of the arterial circulation are characterized by time-varying, reversing, and oscillatory wall shear stress. Several in vivo and in vitro studies have demonstrated that flow reversal (retrograde flow) is atherogenic and proinflammatory. The molecular and structural basis for the sensitivity of the endothelium to flow direction, however, has yet to be determined. It has been hypothesized that the ability to sense flow direction is dependent on the direction of inclination of the interendothelial junction. Immunostaining of the mouse aorta revealed an inclination of the cell-cell junction by 13° in direction of flow in the descending aorta where flow is unidirectional. In contrast, polygonal cells of the inner curvature where flow is disturbed did not have any preferential inclination. Using a membrane specific dye, the angle of inclination of the junction was dynamically monitored using live cell confocal microscopy in confluent human endothelial cell monolayers. Upon application of shear the junctions began inclining within minutes to a final angle of 10° in direction of flow. Retrograde flow led to a reversal of junctional inclination. Flow-induced junctional inclination was shown to be independent of the cytoskeleton or glycocalyx. Additionally, within seconds, retrograde flow led to significantly higher intracellular calcium responses than orthograde flow. Together, these results show for the first time that the endothelial intercellular junction inclination is dynamically responsive to flow direction and confers the ability to endothelial cells to rapidly sense and adapt to flow direction.

  • shear stress
  • endothelium
  • mechanotransduction
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