The negatively charged, brush-like glycocalyx covers the surface layer of endothelial cells. This layer of membrane-bound, carbohydrate-rich molecules covers the luminal surface of the endothelium along the entire vascular tree, mostly comprising glycoproteins and proteoglycans. Together with the underlying actin-rich endothelial cortex, 50 to 150 nm beneath the plasma membrane, the endothelial glycocalyx (eGC) is recognized as a vasoprotective nanobarrier and responsive hub. Importantly, both the eGC and cortex are highly dynamic and can adapt their nanomechanical properties (ie, stiffness and height) to changes in the environment. The constant change between a soft and a stiff endothelial surface is imperative for proper functioning of the endothelium. This review defines the nanomechanical properties of the eGC and stresses the underlying mechanisms and factors leading to a disturbed structure–function relationship. Specifically, under inflammatory conditions, the eGC is damaged, resulting in enhanced vascular permeability, tissue edema, augmented leukocyte adhesion, platelet aggregation, and dysregulated vasodilation. An integrated knowledge of the relationship between the nanomechanical properties, structure, and function of the eGC might be key in understanding vascular function and dysfunction. In this context, the clinical aspects for preservation and restoration of proper eGC nanomechanics are discussed, considering the eGC as a potentially promising diagnostic marker and therapeutic target in the near future.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)