Vascular endothelial cells (ECs) are exposed to hemodynamic forces, which modulate EC functions and vascular biology/pathobiology in health and disease. The flow patterns and hemodynamic forces are not uniform in the vascular system. In straight parts of the arterial tree, blood flow is generally laminar and wall shear stress is high and directed; in branches and curvatures, blood flow is disturbed with nonuniform and irregular distribution of low wall shear stress. Sustained laminar flow with high shear stress upregulates expressions of EC genes and proteins that are protective against atherosclerosis, whereas disturbed flow with associated reciprocating, low shear stress generally upregulates the EC genes and proteins that promote atherogenesis. These findings have led to the concept that the disturbed flow pattern in branch points and curvatures causes the preferential localization of atherosclerotic lesions. Disturbed flow also results in postsurgical neointimal hyperplasia and contributes to pathophysiology of clinical conditions such as in-stent restenosis, vein bypass graft failure, and transplant vasculopathy, as well as aortic valve calcification. In the venous system, disturbed flow resulting from reflux, outflow obstruction, and/or stasis leads to venous inflammation and thrombosis, and hence the development of chronic venous diseases. Understanding of the effects of disturbed flow on ECs can provide mechanistic insights into the role of complex flow patterns in pathogenesis of vascular diseases and can help to elucidate the phenotypic and functional differences between quiescent (nonatherogenic/nonthrombogenic) and activated (atherogenic/thrombogenic) ECs. This review summarizes the current knowledge on the role of disturbed flow in EC physiology and pathophysiology, as well as its clinical implications. Such information can contribute to our understanding of the etiology of lesion development in vascular niches with disturbed flow and help to generate new approaches for therapeutic interventions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas