Calcium Dynamics and Intercellular Communication in Arterial Smooth Muscle Cells in Vitro

Tissue blood flow is controlled by changes in the diameter of the arteries and arterioles through coordinated contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle cells (SMCs) within the vascular wall. The contraction of SMCs is primarily regulated by the intracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i). An increase in [Ca2+]i, in response to stimuli, can propagate from cell to cell, as an intercellular Ca2+ wave along the vessel wall and can activate the process of contraction. The aim of this thesis is to elucidate the mechanisms underlying intercellular Ca2+ wave propagation between SMCs. In the first part of this thesis, we used A7r5 cells, a rat aortic SMC line, loaded with the fluorescent Ca2+ dye Fluo-4 to study intercellular Ca2+ wave propagation. Local mechanical stimulation evoked a Ca2+ wave in the stimulated cell that failed to propagate to neighboring cells. Using primary cultured rat mesenteric smooth muscle cells (pSMCs) instead, intercellular Ca2+ wave propagation was observed. To understand the difference in junctional communication between A7r5 and pSMCs, we investigated the expression of connexin37 (Cx37), Cx40, Cx43 and Cx45. RNA and protein analysis demonstrated that Cx40 – in contrast to A7r5 cells – is not expressed in pSMCs. To confirm that coexpression of Cx40 and Cx43 interfered with junctional communication, we used 6B5N cells, a clone of A7r5 cells with a higher Cx43:Cx40 expression ratio. Junctional communication, assessed by transfer of Lucifer Yellow and propagation of Ca2+ waves, was comparable between 6B5N cells and pSMCs. In addition, Ca2+ wave propagation was inhibited with the connexin-mimetic peptide 43Gap 26, that targets Cx43. Our results demonstrate that Cx43 gap junctions are primarily involved in mediating intercellular Ca2+ waves between pSMCs, and the coexpression of Cx43 with Cx40 may interfere with Cx43 gap junction formation, affecting cell-cell communication. In the second part of this thesis, we applied the microcontact printing technique to culture pSMCs on collagen lines. The aligned arrangement of the cells facilitates the observation of Ca2+ wave progression from one cell to another. To induce a Ca2+ wave, a single pSMC was locally stimulated with a micropipette (transientmechanical stimulation) or by microejection of KCl. Mechanical stimulation evoked two distinct Ca2+ waves: 1) a fast wave (∼2 mm/s) that propagated to all observed neighbouring cells, and 2) a slow wave (∼20 µm/s), that was most often limited in propagation to the first cell. KCl induced only fast Ca2+ waves of the same velocity as the mechanically-induced fast waves. Inhibition of gap junctions, voltage-operated calcium channels, inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) and ryanodine receptors, showed that the fast wave was due to gap junction mediated membrane depolarization and subsequent Ca2+ influx, whereas, the slow wave was due to Ca2+ release primarily through IP3 receptors. Together, these results suggest a mechanism by which intercellular Ca2+ waves can propagate between SMCs of the arterial wall.

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