Molecular basis of the effects of shear stress on vascular endothelial cells

J Biomech. 2005 Oct;38(10):1949-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2004.09.030.


Blood vessels are constantly exposed to hemodynamic forces in the form of cyclic stretch and shear stress due to the pulsatile nature of blood pressure and flow. Endothelial cells (ECs) are subjected to the shear stress resulting from blood flow and are able to convert mechanical stimuli into intracellular signals that affect cellular functions, e.g., proliferation, apoptosis, migration, permeability, and remodeling, as well as gene expression. The ECs use multiple sensing mechanisms to detect changes in mechanical forces, leading to the activation of signaling networks. The cytoskeleton provides a structural framework for the EC to transmit mechanical forces between its luminal, abluminal and junctional surfaces and its interior, including the cytoplasm, the nucleus, and focal adhesion sites. Endothelial cells also respond differently to different modes of shear forces, e.g., laminar, disturbed, or oscillatory flows. In vitro studies on cultured ECs in flow channels have been conducted to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which cells convert the mechanical input into biochemical events, which eventually lead to functional responses. The knowledge gained on mechano-transduction, with verifications under in vivo conditions, will advance our understanding of the physiological and pathological processes in vascular remodeling and adaptation in health and disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / blood
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Integrins / blood
  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 / blood
  • Potassium Channels, Calcium-Activated / blood
  • Potassium Channels, Calcium-Activated / metabolism
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / blood
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / blood
  • Shear Strength*
  • Stress, Mechanical*
  • United States


  • Integrins
  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Potassium Channels, Calcium-Activated
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins