Endothelial cells (ECs) are believed to respond differentially to hemodynamic forces in the vascular tree. Once atherosclerotic plaque has formed in a vessel, the obstruction creates complex spatial gradients in wall shear stress (WSS). In vitro models have used mostly unrealistic and simplified geometries, which cannot reproduce accurately physiological conditions. The objective of this study was to expose ECs to the complex WSS pattern created by an asymmetric stenosis. Endothelial cells were grown and exposed for different times to physiological steady flows in straight dynamic controls and in idealized asymmetric stenosis models. Cell morphology was noticeably different in the regions with spatial WSS gradients, being more randomly oriented and of cobblestone shape. Inflammatory molecule expression was also altered by exposure to shear and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) was upregulated by its presence. A regional response in terms of inflammation was observed through confocal microscopy. This work provides a more realistic model to study endothelial cell response to spatial and temporal WSS gradients that are present in vivo and is an important advancement towards a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in coronary artery disease.

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