Blood vessels are constantly exposed to mechanical stimuli such as shear stress due to flow and pulsatile stretch. The extracellular matrix maintains the structural integrity of the vessel wall and coordinates with a dynamic mechanical environment to provide cues to initiate intracellular signaling pathway(s), thereby changing cellular behaviors and functions. However, the precise role of matrix–cell interactions involved in mechanotransduction during vascular homeostasis and disease development remains to be fully determined. In this review, we introduce hemodynamics forces in blood vessels and the initial sensors of mechanical stimuli, including cell–cell junctional molecules, G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), multiple ion channels, and a variety of small GTPases. We then highlight the molecular mechanotransduction events in the vessel wall triggered by laminar shear stress (LSS) and disturbed shear stress (DSS) on vascular endothelial cells (ECs), and cyclic stretch in ECs and vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs)—both of which activate several key transcription factors. Finally, we provide a recent overview of matrix–cell interactions and mechanotransduction centered on fibronectin in ECs and thrombospondin-1 in SMCs. The results of this review suggest that abnormal mechanical cues or altered responses to mechanical stimuli in EC and SMCs serve as the molecular basis of vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension and aortic aneurysms. Collecting evidence and advancing knowledge on the mechanotransduction in the vessel wall can lead to a new direction of therapeutic interventions for vascular diseases.

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