Cerebral blood flow (CBF) is exquisitely controlled to meet the ever-changing demands of active neurons in the brain. Brain capillaries are equipped with sensors of neurovascular coupling agents released from neurons/astrocytes onto the outer wall of a capillary. While capillaries can translate external signals into electrical and Ca2+ changes, control mechanisms from the lumen are less clear. The continuous flux of red blood cells and plasma through narrow-diameter capillaries imposes mechanical forces on the luminal (inner) capillary wall. Whether—and, if so, how—the ever-changing CBF could be mechanically sensed in capillaries is not known. Here, we propose and provide evidence that the mechanosensitive Piezo1 channels operate as mechanosensors in CNS capillaries to ultimately regulate CBF. Patch clamp electrophysiology confirmed the expression and function of Piezo1 channels in brain cortical and retinal capillary endothelial cells. Mechanical or pharmacological activation of Piezo1 channels evoked currents that were sensitive to Piezo1 channel blockers. Using genetically encoded Ca2+ indicator (Cdh5-GCaMP8) mice, we observed that Piezo1 channel activation triggered Ca2+ signals in endothelial cells. An ex vivo pressurized retina preparation was employed to further explore the mechanosensitivity of capillary Piezo1-mediated Ca2+ signals. Genetic and pharmacologic manipulation of Piezo1 in endothelial cells had significant impacts on CBF, reemphasizing the crucial role of mechanosensation in blood flow control. In conclusion, this study shows that Piezo1 channels act as mechanosensors in capillaries, and that these channels initiate crucial Ca2+ signals. We further show that Piezo1 modulates CBF, an observation of profound significance for the control of brain blood flow in health and in disorders where hemodynamic forces are disrupted, such as hypertension.

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