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Keywords:

  • Epigenetics;
  • Mechanotransduction;
  • Shear stress;
  • Endothelial cells;
  • Smooth muscle cells

Abstract

Vascular endothelial cells (ECs) and smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) are constantly exposed to haemodynamic forces, including blood flow-induced fluid shear stress and cyclic stretch from blood pressure. These forces modulate vascular cell gene expression and function and, therefore, influence vascular physiology and pathophysiology in health and disease. Epigenetics, including DNA methylation, histone modification/chromatin remodelling and RNA-based machinery, refers to the study of heritable changes in gene expression that occur without changes in the DNA sequence. The role of haemodynamic force-induced epigenetic modifications in the regulation of vascular gene expression and function has recently been elucidated. This review provides an introduction to the epigenetic concepts that relate to vascular physiology and pathophysiology. Through the studies of gene expression, cell proliferation, angiogenesis, migration and pathophysiological states, we present a conceptual framework for understanding how mechanical force-induced epigenetic modifications work to control vascular gene expression and function and, hence, the development of vascular disorders. This research contributes to our knowledge of how the mechanical environment impacts the chromatin state of ECs and VSMCs and the consequent cellular behaviours.