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Endothelial cells, lining the inner surface of the vasculature, play an important role in the control of an appropriate vessel wall function. The key structure for that is their glycocalyx coverage, which prevent cell adhesion and might be important for proper barrier function of the vessel wall. Under physiological situations the EC are highly decorated with a coat of carbohydrates, composed of heparin sulfates and proteoglycans anchored to the cell surface via linker proteins like syndecans and glypicans.

Unfortunately, endothelial cells rapidly lose their physiological glycocalyx surface layer in static culture, making it impossible to study them adequate. The reason for that loss is not understood completely. Several authors hypothesize that under hypoxic conditions this glycocalyx is significantly destroyed by shedding. We hypothesize that probably low- or no-flow conditions are important, since hypoxia is often associated with such stop flow situations. We, therefore, are testing whether loss of flow (low shear stress) could additionally induce those shedding of the glycocalyx.

Moreover, we are trying to help endothelial cells to regain their typical cell surface modification by exposure to chronic long-term flow. First experiments are promising in terms of re-occurrence of surface-carbohydrates and show that flow-exposed EC are protected to adhesion of several types of cells as well as platelets.

Enhanced Ulex-Lectin staining after flow.