High laminar shear stress (HLSS) is vasculoprotective partly through induction of Kruppel-like factor 2 (KLF2). Connexin37 (Cx37) is highly expressed in endothelial cells (ECs) of healthy arteries, but not in ECs overlying atherosclerotic lesions. Moreover, Cx37 deletion in apolipoprotein E-deficient (ApoE(-/-)) mice increases susceptibility to atherosclerosis. We hypothesized that shear stress, through KLF2 modulation, may affect Cx37 expression in ECs. Cx37 expression and gap-junctional intercellular (GJIC) dye transfer are prominent in the straight portion of carotid arteries of ApoE(-/-) mice, but are reduced at the carotid bifurcation, a region subjected to oscillatory flow. Shear stress-modifying vascular casts were placed around the common carotid artery of ApoE(-/-) mice. Whereas Cx37 expression was conserved in HLSS regions, it was downregulated to ~50% in low laminar or oscillatory flow regions. To study the mechanisms involved, HUVECs or bEnd.3 cells were exposed to flow in vitro. Cx37 and KLF2 expression were increased after 24h of HLSS. Interestingly, shear-dependent Cx37 expression was significantly reduced after silencing of KLF2. Moreover after exposure to simvastatin, a well-known KLF2 inducer, KLF2 binds to the Cx37 promoter region as shown by ChIP. Finally, GJIC dye transfer was highly reduced after KLF2 silencing and was increased after exposure to simvastatin. HLSS upregulates the expression of Cx37 in ECs by inducing its transcription factor KLF2, which increases intercellular communication. Therefore, this effect of shear stress on Cx37 expression may contribute to the synchronization of ECs and participate in the protective effect of HLSS.
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