Shear stress and cyclic circumferential stretch, but not pressure, alter connexin43 expression in endothelial cells.
Hemodynamic forces play a critical role in atherogenesis, as evidenced by the focal pattern of development of atherosclerotic lesions. Whereas disturbed flow in the branches and curved regions of large arteries is proatherogenic, laminar flow in the straight parts of vessels is atheroprotective. In addition, hypertension and age-related changes in arterial stiffness are important risk factors of the disease. Hemodynamic forces induce various changes in the structure and function of vascular endothelium, many of which reflect alterations in gene expression. Endothelial cells are linked by gap junctions, which facilitate the propagation of electrical and chemical signals along the vascular wall. Using an in vitro perfusion system, we investigated the effects of pulsed unidirectional and oscillatory flows in combination with different levels of hydrostatic pressure and circumferential stretch on the expression of Cx43 in endothelial cells. Our results show that shear stress and circumferential stretch, but not pressure, modulate the expression of Cx43. In view of the distribution of this protein along the vascular tree, our findings provide new insights into the role of mechanical forces on gap junctional communication in regions prone to the development of atherosclerosis.