Mechanical stress alters the expression of calcification-related genes in vascular interstitial and endothelial cells

Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg. 2019 May 1;28(5):803-811. doi: 10.1093/icvts/ivy339.


Objectives: Vascular wall calcification is a major pathophysiological component of atherosclerotic disease with many similarities to osteogenesis. Mechanical stress of the vascular wall may theoretically contribute to the proliferative processes by endothelial and interstitial cells. The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of mechanical stress on the expression of some calcification-related genes in primary human endothelial and interstitial cells, and how endothelial cells may stimulate the fibroblast and smooth muscle cells.

Methods: Human umbilical vein endothelial and interstitial cells were subjected to cyclic stretch using a FlexCell® bioreactor, and interstitial cells were also subjected to tensile strain in cultures embedded in 3-dimensional collagen gels. The medium from endothelial cells was used to stimulate the gel-cultured interstitial cells, or the endothelium was sown directly on top. For comparison, human endothelial and smooth muscle cells were isolated from aortic wall fragments of patients with and without the aortic aneurysm. The expression of genes was measured using quantitative PCR.

Results: Four hours of cyclic stretch applied to cultured endothelial cells upregulated the mRNA expression of bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2), a major procalcific growth factor. When applied to a 3-dimensional culture of vascular interstitial cells, the medium from prestretched endothelial cells decreased the expression of BMP-2 and periostin mRNA in the fibroblasts. The static tension in gel-cultured interstitial cells upregulated BMP-2 mRNA expression. The addition of endothelial cells on the top of this culture also reduced mRNA of anticalcific genes, periostin and osteopontin. Similar changes were observed in smooth muscle cells from human aortic aneurysms compared to cells from the healthy aorta. Aortic aneurysm endothelial cells also showed an increased expression of BMP-2 mRNA.

Conclusions: Endothelial cells respond to mechanical stress by upregulation of pro-osteogenic factor BMP-2 mRNA and modulate the expression of other osteogenic factors in vascular interstitial cells. Endothelial cells may, thus, contribute to vascular calcification when exposed to mechanical stress.

Keywords: Aortic aneurysm; Cocultures; Ectopic calcification; Endothelial cells; Mechanical stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2 / biosynthesis
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2 / genetics*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Stress, Mechanical*
  • Tunica Intima / metabolism*
  • Tunica Intima / pathology
  • Up-Regulation
  • Vascular Calcification / genetics*
  • Vascular Calcification / metabolism
  • Vascular Calcification / pathology


  • BMP2 protein, human
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2
  • RNA, Messenger