Atherosclerosis impacts arteries where disturbed blood flow renders the endothelium susceptible to inflammation. Cytokine activation of endothelial cells (EC) upregulates VCAM-1 receptors that target monocyte recruitment to atherosusceptible regions. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress elicits EC dysregulation in metabolic syndrome. We hypothesized that ER plays a central role in mechanosensing of atherosusceptible shear stress (SS) by signaling enhanced inflammation. Aortic EC were stimulated with low-dose TNFα (0.3 ng/ml) in a microfluidic channel that produced a linear SS gradient over a 20mm field ranging from 0-16 dynes/cm2. High-resolution imaging of immunofluorescence along the monolayer provided a continuous spatial metric of EC orientation, markers of ER stress, VCAM-1 and ICAM-1 expression, and monocyte recruitment. VCAM-1 peaked at 2 dynes/cm2 and decreased to below static TNFα-stimulated levels at atheroprotective-SS of 12 dynes/cm2, whereas ICAM-1 rose to a maximum in parallel with SS. ER expansion and activation of the unfolded protein response also peaked at 2 dynes/cm2, where IRF-1-regulated VCAM-1 expression and monocyte recruitment also rose to a maximum. Silencing of PECAM-1 or key ER stress genes abrogated SS regulation of VCAM-1 transcription and monocyte recruitment. We report a novel role for ER stress in mechanoregulation at arterial regions of atherosusceptible-SS inflamed by low-dose TNFα.
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