Fluid shear stress (FSS) has been shown to be an ubiquitous stimulator of mammalian cell metabolism. Although many of the intracellular signal transduction pathways have been characterized, the primary mechanoreceptor for FSS remains unknown. One hypothesis is that the cytoplasmic membrane acts as the receptor for FSS, leading to increased membrane fluidity, which in turn leads to the activation of heterotrimetric G proteins (13). 9-(Dicyanovinyl)-julolidine (DCVJ) is a fluorescent probe that integrates into the cell membrane and changes its quantum yield with the viscosity of the environment. In a parallel-plate flow chamber, confluent layers of DCVJ-labeled human endothelial cells were exposed to different levels of FSS. With increased FSS, a reduced fluorescence intensity was observed, indicating an increase of membrane fluidity. Step changes of FSS caused an approximately linear drop of fluorescence within 5 s, showing fast and almost full recovery after shear cessation. A linear dose-response relationship between shear stress and membrane fluidity changes was observed. The average fluidity increase over the entire cell monolayer was 22% at 26 dyn/cm(2). This study provides evidence for a link between FSS and membrane fluidity, and suggests that the membrane is an important flow mechanosensor of the cell.
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