Mechanical force regulates gene expression and cell proliferation in a variety of cell types, but the mechanotransducers and signaling mechanisms involved are highly speculative. We studied the fibroblast signaling mechanism that is activated when cells are switched from mechanically stressed to mechanically relaxed conditions, i.e., stress relaxation. Within 10 min after initiation of stress relaxation, we observed a transient 10-20-fold increase in cytoplasmic cyclic AMP (cAMP) and a threefold increase in protein kinase A activity. The increase in cAMP depended on stimulation of adenylyl cyclase rather than inhibition of phosphodiesterase. Generation of cAMP was inhibited by indomethacin, and release of arachidonic acid was found to be an upstream step of the pathway. Activation of signaling also depended on influx of extracellular Ca2+ because addition of EGTA to the incubations at concentrations just sufficient to exceed Ca2+ in the medium inhibited the stress relaxation-dependent increase in free arachidonic acid and cAMP. This inhibition was overcome by adding CaCl2 to the medium. On the other hand, treating fibroblasts in mechanically stressed cultures with the calcium ionophore A23187-stimulated arachidonic acid and cAMP production even without stress relaxation. In summary, our results show that fibroblast stress relaxation results in activation of a Ca(2+)-dependent, adenylyl cyclase signaling pathway. Overall, the effect of stress relaxation on cAMP and PKA levels was equivalent to that observed after treatment of cells with forskolin.

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