Asthmatic airways are stiffer than normal. We have shown that the cytoskeletal passive stiffness of airway smooth muscle (ASM) can be regulated by intracellular signaling pathways, especially those associated with Rho kinase (ROCK). We have also shown that an oscillatory strain reduces the passive stiffness of ASM and its ability to generate force. Here, we investigated the combined effect of inhibiting the ASM contraction with β2 agonist and decreasing the ASM cytoskeletal stiffness with ROCK inhibitor and/or force oscillation (FO) on the relaxation of contracted ASM. We hypothesize that the ASM relaxation can be synergistically enhanced by the combination of these interventions, because drug-induced softening of the cytoskeleton enhances the FO-induced relaxation and vice versa. Sheep tracheal strips were isotonically contracted to acetylcholine (3 × 10−5 M). At the plateau of shortening, β2 agonist salbutamol (10−7 M), ROCK inhibitor H1152 (10−7 M), and FO (square wave, 1 Hz, amplitude 6% maximal active force) were applied either alone or in combination. After adjusting for nonspecific time-dependent variation, relengthening by individual interventions with low-dose salbutamol or H1152, or small amplitude FO was not significantly different from zero. However, significant relengthening was observed in all combination treatments. The relengthening was greater than the mathematical sum of relengthening caused by individual treatments thereby demonstrating synergistic relaxation. The ASM stiffness did not change with salbutamol or H1152 treatments, but was lower with FO in combination with H1152. The results suggest that the mechanopharmacological treatment can be an effective therapy for asthma.

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