Specificity of endothelial cell reorientation in response to cyclic mechanical stretching

James H.C. Wang, Pascal Goldschmidt-Clermont, Jeremiah Wille, Frank C.P. Yin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

266 Scopus citations


Evidence suggests that cellular responses to mechanical stimuli depend specifically on the type of stimuli imposed. For example, when subjected to fluid shear stress, endothelial cells align along the flow direction. In contrast, in response to cyclic stretching, cells align away from the stretching direction. However, a few aspects of this cell alignment response remain to be clarified: (1) Is the cell alignment due to actual cell reorientation or selective cell detachment? (2) Does the resulting cell alignment represent a response of the cells to elongation or shortening, or both? (3) Does the cell alignment depend on the stretching magnitude or rate, or both? Finally, the role of the actin cytoskeleton and microtubules in the cell alignment response remains unclear. To address these questions, we grew human aortic endothelial cells on deformable silicone membranes and subjected them to three types of cyclic stretching: simple elongation, pure uniaxial stretching and equi-biaxial stretching. Examination of the same cells before and after stretching revealed that they reoriented. Cells subjected to either simple elongation or pure uniaxial stretching reoriented specifically toward the direction of minimal substrate deformation, even though the directions for the two types of stretching differed by only about 20°. At comparable stretching durations, the extent of cell reorientation was more closely related to the stretching magnitude than the stretching rate. The actin cytoskeleton of the endothelial cell subjected to either type of stretching was reorganized into parallel arrays of actin filaments (i.e., stress fibers) aligned in the direction of the minimal substrate deformation. Furthermore, in response to equi-biaxial stretching, the actin cytoskeleton was remodeled into a 'tent-like' structure oriented out of the membrane plane-again towards the direction of the minimal substrate deformation. Finally, abolishing microtubules prevented neither the formation of stress fibers nor cell reorientation. Thus, endothelial cells respond very specifically to the type of deformation imposed upon them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1563-1572
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell alignment
  • Cellular mechanics
  • Endothelial cells
  • Mechanical stretching
  • Stress fibers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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