Vascular endothelial cells (ECs), which exist in close proximity to vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs), are constantly subjected to blood flow-induced shear stress. Although the effect of shear stress on endothelial biology has been extensively studied, the influence of SMCs on endothelial response to shear stress remains largely unexplored. We examined the potential role of SMCs in regulating the shear stress-induced gene expression in ECs, using a parallel-plate coculture flow system in which these 2 types of cells were separated by a porous membrane. In this coculture system, SMCs tended to orient perpendicularly to the flow direction, whereas the ECs were elongated and aligned with the flow direction. Under static conditions, coculture with SMCs induced EC gene expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), and E-selectin, while attenuating EC gene expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). Shear stress significantly inhibited SMC-induced adhesion molecule gene expression. These EC responses under static and shear conditions were not observed in the absence of close communication between ECs and SMCs, and they were also not observed when ECs were cocultured with fibroblasts instead of SMCs. Our findings indicate that under static conditions, coculture with SMCs induces ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and E-selectin gene expression in ECs. These coculture effects are inhibited by shear stress and require specific interaction between ECs and SMCs in close contact.
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