We have developed an in-vitro system for studying the dynamic response of vascular endothelial cells to controlled levels of fluid shear stress. Cultured monolayers of bovine aortic endothelial cells are placed in a cone-plate apparatus that produces a uniform fluid shear stress on replicate samples. Subconfluent endothelial cultures continuously exposed to 1–5 dynes/cm2 shear proliferate at a rate comparable to that of static cultures and reach the same saturation density (≃ 1.0–1.5 × 105 cells/cm2). When exposed to a laminar shear stress of 5–10 dynes/cm2, confluent monolayers undergo a time-dependent change in cell shape from polygonal to ellipsoidal and become uniformly oriented with flow. Regeneration of linear “wounds” in confluent monolayer appears to be influenced by the direction of the applied force. Preliminary studies indicate that certain endothelial cell functions, including fluid endocytosis, cytoskeletal assembly and nonthrombogenic surface properties, also are sensitive to shear stress. These observations suggest that fluid mechanical forces can directly influence endothelial cell structure and function. Modulation of endothelial behavior by fluid shear stresses may be relevant to normal vessel wall physiology, as well as the pathogenesis of vascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis.

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