Tensile properties of vascular smooth muscle cells: bridging vascular and cellular biomechanics

J Biomech. 2012 Mar 15;45(5):745-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2011.11.014. Epub 2011 Dec 15.


Vascular walls change their dimensions and mechanical properties adaptively in response to blood pressure. Because these responses are driven by the smooth muscle cells (SMCs) in the media, a detailed understanding of the mechanical environment of the SMCs should reveal the mechanism of the adaptation. As the mechanical properties of the media are highly heterogeneous at the microscopic level, the mechanical properties of the cells should be measured directly. The tensile properties of SMCs are, thus, important to reveal the microscopic mechanical environment in vascular tissues; their tensile properties have a close correlation with the distribution and arrangement of elements of the cytoskeletal networks, such as stress fibers and microtubules. In this review, we first introduce the experimental techniques used for tensile testing and discuss the various factors affecting the tensile properties of vascular SMCs. Cytoskeletal networks are particularly important for the mechanical properties of a cell and its mechanism of mechanotransduction; thus, the mechanical properties of cytoskeletal filaments and their effects on whole-cell mechanical properties are discussed with special attention to the balance of intracellular forces among the intracellular components that determines the force applied to each element of the cytoskeletal filaments, which is the key to revealing the mechanotransduction events regulating mechanical adaptation. Lastly, we suggest future directions to connect tissue and cell mechanics and to elucidate the mechanism of mechanical adaptation, one of the key issues of cardiovascular solid biomechanics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cattle
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / cytology
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / cytology
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / physiology*
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Tensile Strength / physiology