Mechanical forces generated at the endothelium by fluid shear stress and pulsatile stretch are important in ensuring the continuous release of vasoactive endothelial autacoids. Although the mechanism by which endothelial cells are able to detect and convert these physical stimuli into chemical signals is unclear, this process involves the activation of integrins, G proteins and cascades of protein kinases. The constitutive endothelial nitric oxide synthase (NOS III), classified as a Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent isoform, can be activated by shear stress and isometric contraction in the absence of a maintained increase in [Ca2+]i via a mechanism involving its redistribution within the cytoskeleton/caveolae and the activation of one or more regulatory NOS-associated proteins. Thus it would appear that the intracellular cascades activated by Ca2+-elevating receptor-dependent agonists, such as bradykinin, and hemodynamic stimuli are distinct. Rhythmic vessel distension is also able to elicit the synthesis of superoxide anions and the endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor which play a role in modulating arterial compliance in certain vascular beds.

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