Myosin light chain kinase in microvascular endothelial barrier function

Cardiovasc Res. 2010 Jul 15;87(2):272-80. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvq144. Epub 2010 May 17.


Microvascular barrier dysfunction is implicated in the initiation and progression of inflammation, posttraumatic complications, sepsis, ischaemia-reperfusion injury, atherosclerosis, and diabetes. Under physiological conditions, a precise equilibrium between endothelial cell-cell adhesion and actin-myosin-based centripetal tension tightly controls the semi-permeability of microvascular barriers. Myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) plays an important role in maintaining the equilibrium by phosphorylating myosin light chain (MLC), thereby inducing actomyosin contractility and weakening endothelial cell-cell adhesion. MLCK is activated by numerous physiological factors and inflammatory or angiogenic mediators, causing vascular hyperpermeability. In this review, we discuss experimental evidence supporting the crucial role of MLCK in the hyperpermeability response to key cell signalling events during inflammation. At the cellular level, in vitro studies of cultured endothelial monolayers treated with MLCK inhibitors or transfected with specific inhibiting peptides have demonstrated that induction of endothelial MLCK activity is necessary for hyperpermeability. Ex vivo studies of live microvessels, enabled by development of the isolated, perfused venule method, support the importance of MLCK in endothelial permeability regulation in an environment that more closely resembles in vivo tissues. Finally, the role of MLCK in vascular hyperpermeability has been confirmed with in vivo studies of animal disease models and the use of transgenic MLCK210 knockout mice. These approaches provide a more complete view of the role of MLCK in vascular barrier dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actomyosin / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Body Fluids / metabolism*
  • Capillary Permeability* / drug effects
  • Capillary Permeability* / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / enzymology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / immunology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / enzymology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microvessels / drug effects
  • Microvessels / enzymology*
  • Microvessels / immunology
  • Microvessels / physiopathology
  • Models, Animal
  • Myosin Light Chains / metabolism
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase / genetics
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Myosin Light Chains
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Actomyosin
  • Myosin-Light-Chain Kinase