Mechanosensing at the vascular interface

Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2014 Jul 11;16:505-32. doi: 10.1146/annurev-bioeng-071813-104908. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Mammals are endowed with a complex set of mechanisms that sense mechanical forces imparted by blood flow to endothelial cells (ECs), smooth muscle cells, and circulating blood cells to elicit biochemical responses through a process referred to as mechanotransduction. These biochemical responses are critical for a host of other responses, including regulation of blood pressure, control of vascular permeability for maintaining adequate perfusion of tissues, and control of leukocyte recruitment during immunosurveillance and inflammation. This review focuses on the role of the endothelial surface proteoglycan/glycoprotein layer-the glycocalyx (GCX)-that lines all blood vessel walls and is an agent in mechanotransduction and the modulation of blood cell interactions with the EC surface. We first discuss the biochemical composition and ultrastructure of the GCX, highlighting recent developments that reveal gaps in our understanding of the relationship between composition and spatial organization. We then consider the roles of the GCX in mechanotransduction and in vascular permeability control and review the prominent interaction of plasma-borne sphingosine-1 phosphate (S1P), which has been shown to regulate both the composition of the GCX and the endothelial junctions. Finally, we consider the association of GCX degradation with inflammation and vascular disease and end with a final section on future research directions.

Keywords: endothelium; glycocalyx; glycoprotein; proteoglycan; red cell; shear stress; sphingosine-1 phosphate; vascular disease; vascular permeability; white cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Cells / cytology
  • Capillary Permeability*
  • Caveolae / metabolism
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology*
  • Glycocalyx / metabolism
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Lysophospholipids / chemistry
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Membrane Microdomains / chemistry
  • Mice
  • Microcirculation
  • Microscopy
  • Nitric Oxide / chemistry
  • Phospholipids / chemistry
  • Proteoglycans / chemistry
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sphingosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Sphingosine / chemistry


  • Glycoproteins
  • Lysophospholipids
  • Phospholipids
  • Proteoglycans
  • sphingosine 1-phosphate
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Sphingosine