Vascular endothelial cells appear to be aligned with the flow in the immediate vicinity of the arterial wall and have a shape which is more ellipsoidal in regions of high shear and more polygonal in regions of low shear stress. In order to study quantitatively the nature of this response, bovine aortic endothelial cells grown on Thermanox plastic coverslips were exposed to shear stress levels of 10, 30, and 85 dynes/cm2 for periods up to 24 hr using a parallel plate flow chamber. A computer-based analysis system was used to quantify the degree of cell elongation with respect to the change in cell angle of orientation and with time. The results show that (i) endothelial cells orient with the flow direction under the influence of shear stress, (ii) the time required for cell alignment with flow direction is somewhat longer than that required for cell elongation, (iii) there is a strong correlation between the degree of alignment and endothelial cell shape, and (iv) endothelial cells become more elongated when exposed to higher shear stresses.

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