Mechanobiology of the abluminal glycocalyx

Peter J. Butler, Amit Bhatnagar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Endothelial cells (ECs) sense the forces from blood flow through the glycocalyx, a carbohydrate rich luminal surface layer decorating most cells, and through forces transmitted through focal adhesions (FAs) on the abluminal side of the cell. OBJECTIVES: This perspective paper explores a complementary hypothesis, that glycocalyx molecules on the abluminal side of the EC between the basement membrane and the EC membrane, occupying the space outside of FAs, work in concert with FAs to sense blood flow-induced shear stress applied to the luminal surface. RESULTS: First, we summarize recent studies suggesting that the glycocalyx repels the plasma membrane away from the basement membrane, while integrin molecules attach to extracellular matrix (ECM) ligands. This coordinated attraction and repulsion results in the focal nature of integrin-mediated adhesion making the abluminal glycocalyx a participant in mechanotransduction. Further, the glycocalyx mechanically links the plasma membrane to the basement membrane providing a mechanism of force transduction when the cell deforms in the peri-FA space. To determine if the membrane might deform against a restoring force of an elastic abluminal glycocalyx in the peri-FA space we present some analysis from a multicomponent elastic finite element model of a sheared and focally adhered endothelial cell whose abluminal topography was assessed using quantitative total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy with an assumption that glycocalyx fills the space between the membrane and extracellular matrix. CONCLUSIONS: While requiring experimental verification, this analysis supports the hypothesis that shear on the luminal surface can be transmitted to the abluminal surface and deform the cell in the vicinity of the focal adhesions, with the magnitude of deformation depending on the abluminal glycocalyx modulus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-112
Number of pages12
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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