Arterial smooth muscle cells (ASMCs), the predominant cell type within the arterial wall, detect and respond to external mechanical forces. These forces can be derived from blood flow (i.e. pressure and stretch) or from the supporting extracellular matrix (i.e. stiffness and topography). The healthy arterial wall is elastic, allowing the artery to change shape in response to changes in blood pressure, a property known as arterial compliance. As we age, the mechanical forces applied to ASMCs change; blood pressure and arterial wall rigidity increase and result in a reduction in arterial compliance. These changes in mechanical environment enhance ASMC contractility and promote disease-associated changes in ASMC phenotype. For mechanical stimuli to programme ASMCs, forces must influence the cell’s load-bearing apparatus, the cytoskeleton. Comprised of an interconnected network of actin filaments, microtubules and intermediate filaments, each cytoskeletal component has distinct mechanical properties that enable ASMCs to respond to changes within the mechanical environment whilst maintaining cell integrity. In this review, we discuss how mechanically driven cytoskeletal reorganisation programmes ASMC function and phenotypic switching.
- Arterial compliance
- Arterial smooth muscle cell