Cells and tissues have evolved to thrive in an environment continually subjected to fluctuating physical constraints. For example, the constantly changing fluid dynamics of blood flowing past endothelial cells that line arteries and veins has caused these cells to develop a rapid-fire plasticity to external forces. The emerging discipline of molecular mechanochemistry addresses these adaptations, combining elements of biomechanics, molecular biology, and biophysics. In addition to gaining new insight into basic cell biology, the area is ripe with relevance to human health and biotechnology.
University of Pennsylvania Medical Center researchers are studying how cells sense, respond, and adapt to physical forces and how these responses are important to physiological and pathological mechanisms. "This line of investigation is helping us to discover key regulatory molecules important for preventive therapy in such diseases as atherosclerosis and hypertension," says Peter F. Davies, PhD, director of Penn's newly formed Institute for Medicine and Engineering, an organizational blending of medical and engineering faculties to support research, education, and business initiatives for bioengineering projects. Davies will present a review of his laboratory's latest findings at the 1998 American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Philadelphia in a session entitled, "How Mechanical Forces are Sensed, Generated, and Used by Cells."
"Cells are constantly monitoring their surrounding physical
environment," remarks Davies. "Cardiac output, and hence blood flow, goes
through natural variations throughout the day, as well as with exercise and
stress. For example, if a certain tissue needs more blood, the artery to that
tissue will dilate and allow more blood to flow through it." Dilation and
constriction of vessels are ultimately controlled by shifts from one signa
Contact: Karen Young Kreeger
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine