Shear Stress and Sub-Femtomolar Levels of Ligand Synergize to Activate ALK1 Signaling in Endothelial Cells

Cells. 2024 Feb 5;13(3):285. doi: 10.3390/cells13030285.


Endothelial cells (ECs) respond to concurrent stimulation by biochemical factors and wall shear stress (SS) exerted by blood flow. Disruptions in flow-induced responses can result in remodeling issues and cardiovascular diseases, but the detailed mechanisms linking flow-mechanical cues and biochemical signaling remain unclear. Activin receptor-like kinase 1 (ALK1) integrates SS and ALK1-ligand cues in ECs; ALK1 mutations cause hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT), marked by arteriovenous malformation (AVM) development. However, the mechanistic underpinnings of ALK1 signaling modulation by fluid flow and the link to AVMs remain uncertain. We recorded EC responses under varying SS magnitudes and ALK1 ligand concentrations by assaying pSMAD1/5/9 nuclear localization using a custom multi-SS microfluidic device and a custom image analysis pipeline. We extended the previously reported synergy between SS and BMP9 to include BMP10 and BMP9/10. Moreover, we demonstrated that this synergy is effective even at extremely low SS magnitudes (0.4 dyn/cm2) and ALK1 ligand range (femtogram/mL). The synergistic response to ALK1 ligands and SS requires the kinase activity of ALK1. Moreover, ALK1's basal activity and response to minimal ligand levels depend on endocytosis, distinct from cell-cell junctions, cytoskeleton-mediated mechanosensing, or cholesterol-enriched microdomains. However, an in-depth analysis of ALK1 receptor trafficking's molecular mechanisms requires further investigation.

Keywords: ALK1 receptor trafficking; endothelial cell biology; hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia; mechanobiology; mechanosensing; mechanotransduction; pSMAD1/5/9.

MeSH terms

  • Arteriovenous Malformations*
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Endothelial Cells
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Signal Transduction
  • Telangiectasia, Hereditary Hemorrhagic* / genetics


  • Ligands
  • BMP10 protein, human
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins