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Substrate stiffness and VE-cadherin mechano-transduction coordinate to regulate endothelial monolayer integrity


The vascular endothelium is subject to diverse mechanical cues that regulate vascular endothelial barrier function. In addition to rigidity sensing through integrin adhesions, mechanical perturbations such as changes in fluid shear stress can also activate force transduction signals at intercellular junctions. This study investigated how extracellular matrix rigidity and intercellular force transduction, activated by vascular endothelial cadherin, coordinate to regulate the integrity of endothelial monolayers. Studies used complementary mechanical measurements of endothelial monolayers grown on patterned substrates of variable stiffness. Specifically perturbing VE-cadherin receptors activated intercellular force transduction signals that increased integrin-dependent cell contractility and disrupted cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesions. Further investigations of the impact of substrate rigidity on force transduction signaling demonstrated how cells integrate extracellular mechanics cues and intercellular force transduction signals, to regulate endothelial integrity and global tissue mechanics. VE-cadherin specific signaling increased focal adhesion remodeling and cell contractility, while sustaining the overall mechanical equilibrium at the mesoscale. Conversely, increased substrate rigidity exacerbates the disruptive effects of intercellular force transduction signals, by increasing heterogeneity in monolayer stress distributions. The results provide new insights into how substrate stiffness and intercellular force transduction coordinate to regulate endothelial monolayer integrity.

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