Role of cytoskeletal components in stress-relaxation behavior of adherent vascular smooth muscle cells

J Biomech Eng. 2009 Apr;131(4):041001. doi: 10.1115/1.3049860.


A number of recent studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of atomic force microscopy (AFM) for characterization of cellular stress-relaxation behavior. However, this technique's recent development creates considerable need for exploration of appropriate mechanical models for analysis of the resultant data and of the roles of various cytoskeletal components responsible for governing stress-relaxation behavior. The viscoelastic properties of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) are of particular interest due to their role in the development of vascular diseases, including atherosclerosis and restenosis. Various cytoskeletal agents, including cytochalasin D, jasplakinolide, paclitaxel, and nocodazole, were used to alter the cytoskeletal architecture of the VSMCs. Stress-relaxation experiments were performed on the VSMCs using AFM. The quasilinear viscoelastic (QLV) reduced-relaxation function, as well as a simple power-law model, and the standard linear solid (SLS) model, were fitted to the resultant stress-relaxation data. Actin depolymerization via cytochalasin D resulted in significant increases in both rate of relaxation and percentage of relaxation; actin stabilization via jasplakinolide did not affect stress-relaxation behavior. Microtubule depolymerization via nocodazole resulted in nonsignificant increases in rate and percentage of relaxation, while microtubule stabilization via paclitaxel caused significant decreases in both rate and percentage of relaxation. Both the QLV reduced-relaxation function and the power-law model provided excellent fits to the data (R(2)=0.98), while the SLS model was less adequate (R(2)=0.91). Data from the current study indicate the important role of not only actin, but also microtubules, in governing VSMC viscoelastic behavior. Excellent fits to the data show potential for future use of both the QLV reduced-relaxation function and power-law models in conjunction with AFM stress-relaxation experiments.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / drug effects
  • Actins / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Aorta / cytology
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cytochalasin D / pharmacology
  • Depsipeptides / pharmacology
  • Elasticity / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Microtubules / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle Relaxation / drug effects
  • Muscle Relaxation / physiology*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / drug effects
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / physiology*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / ultrastructure
  • Nocodazole / pharmacology
  • Paclitaxel / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tubulin Modulators / pharmacology
  • Viscosity / drug effects


  • Actins
  • Depsipeptides
  • Tubulin Modulators
  • jasplakinolide
  • Cytochalasin D
  • Paclitaxel
  • Nocodazole