Endothelial metallothionein expression and intracellular free zinc levels are regulated by shear stress

Daniel E. Conway, Sungmun Lee, Suzanne G. Eskin, Ankit K. Shah, Hanjoong Jo, Larry V. McIntire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We examined the effects of fluid shear stress on metallothionein (MT) gene and protein expression and intracellular free zinc in mouse aorta and in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Immunostaining of the endothelial surface of mouse aorta revealed increased expression of MT protein in the lesser curvature of the aorta relative to the descending thoracic aorta. HUVECs were exposed to high steady shear stress (15 dyn/cm2), low steady shear stress (1 dyn/cm2), or reversing shear stress (mean of 1 dyn/cm 2, 1 Hz) for 24 h. Gene expression of three MT-1 isoforms, MT-2A, and zinc transporter-1 was upregulated by low steady shear stress and reversing shear stress. HUVECs exposed to 15 dyn/cm2 had increased levels of free zinc compared with cells under other shear stress regimes and static conditions. The increase in free zinc was partially blocked with an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis, suggesting a role for shear stress-induced endothelial nitric oxide synthase activity. Cells subjected to reversing shear stress in zinc-supplemented media (50 μM ZnSO4) had increased intracellular free zinc, reduced surface intercellular adhesion molecule-1 expression, and reduced monocyte adhesion compared with cells exposed to reversing shear stress in normal media. The sensitivity of intracellular free zinc to differences in shear stress suggests that intracellular zinc levels are important in the regulation of the endothelium and in the progression of vascular disease.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)C1461-C1467
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Endothelial cells
  • Vascular biology


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