Membrane potential depolarization decreases the stiffness of vascular endothelial cells

Chiara Callies*, Johannes Fels, Ivan Liashkovich, Katrin Kliche, Pia Jeggle, Kristina Kusche-Vihrog, Hans Oberleithner

*Corresponding author for this work
55 Citations (Scopus)


The stiffness of vascular endothelial cells is crucial to mechanically withstand blood flow and, at the same time, to control deformation-dependent nitric oxide release. However, the regulation of mechanical stiffness is not yet understood. There is evidence that a possible regulator is the electrical plasma membrane potential difference. Using a novel technique that combines fluorescence-based membrane potential recordings with atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based stiffness measurements, the present study shows that membrane depolarization is associated with a decrease in the stiffness of endothelial cells. Three different depolarization protocols were applied, all of which led to a similar and significant decrease in cell stiffness, independently of changes in cell volume. Moreover, experiments using the actin-destabilizing agent cytochalasin D indicated that depolarization acts by affecting the cortical actin cytoskeleton. A model is proposed whereby a change of the electrical field across the plasma membrane is directly sensed by the submembranous actin network, regulating the actin polymerization:depolymerization ratio and thus cell stiffness. This depolarization-induced decrease in the stiffness of endothelial cells could play a role in flow-mediated nitric-oxide-dependent vasodilation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1936-1942
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 01.06.2011

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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