Endothelium exposed to fluid shear stress (FSS) undergoes cell shape change, alignment and microfilament network remodeling in the direction of flow by an unknown mechanism. In this study we explore the role of tyrosine kinase (TK) activity, intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i), mechanosensitive channels and cytoskeleton in the mechanism of cell shape change and actin stress fiber induction in bovine aortic endothelium (BAE). We report that FSS induces beta-actin mRNA in a time- and magnitude-dependent fashion. Treatment with quin2-AM to chelate intracellular calcium release and herbimycin A to inhibit TK activity abolished BAE shape change and actin stress fiber induction by FSS, while inhibition of protein kinase C with chelerythrine had no effect. Altering intermediate filament structure with acrylamide did not affect alignment or F-actin induction by FSS. Examining the role of the BAE cytoskeleton revealed a critical role for microtubules (MT). MT disruption with nocodazole blocked both FSS-induced morphological change and actin stress fiber induction. In contrast, MT hyperpolymerization with taxol attenuated the cell shape change but did not prevent actin stress fiber induction under flow. Mechanosensitive channels were found not to be involved in the FSS-induced shape change. Blocking the shear-activated current (IK.S) with barium and the stretch-activated cation channels (ISA) with gadolinium had no effect on the shear-induced changes in morphology and cytoskeleton. In summary, FSS has a profound effect on endothelial shape and F-actin network by a mechanism which depends on TK activity, intracellular calcium, and an intact microtubule network, but is independent of protein kinase C, intermediate filaments and shear- and stretch-activated mechanosensitive channels.

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