Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (EC) were grown on elastic silicone membranes subjected to cyclic stretch, simulating arterial wall motion. Stretching conditions (20% amplitude, 52 cycle/min) stimulated stress fiber formation and their orientation transversely to the strain direction. Cell bodies aligned along the same axis after the actin cytoskeleton. EC orientation response was inhibited by the adenylate cyclase activator, forskolin (10(-5) M), which caused stress fiber disassembly and the redistribution of F-actin to the cortical cytoplasm. Preoriented EC depleted of stress fibers by forskolin treatment retained their aligned state. Thus, stress fibers are essential for the process of EC orientation induced by repeated strain, but not for the maintenance of EC orientation. The monolayer formed by EC grown to confluence in conditions of intermittent strain consisted of uniform elongated cells and was resistant to deformation. In contrast, the monolayer assembled in stationary conditions was less compliant and exposed local denudations on initiation of stretching. When stretched in the presence of 10(-5) M forskolin it rapidly (3-4 h) reestablished integrity but gained a heterogeneous appearance since denuded areas were covered by giant cells. The protective effect of forskolin was because of the stimulation of EC spreading. This feature of forskolin was demonstrated while studying its action on EC spreading and repair of a scratched EC monolayer in conventional culture. Thus mechanical deformation and adenylate cyclase activity may be important factors in the control of endothelium morphology in human arteries.

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