Abstract

Smooth muscle cell (SMC) contractility is essential to vessel tone maintenance and blood pressure regulation. In response to vasoconstrictors, calcium-dependent mechanisms promote the activation of the regulatory myosin light chain, leading to increased cytoskeleton tension that favors cell shortening. In contrast, SMC maintain an intrinsic level of a contractile force independent of vasoconstrictor stimulation and sustained SMC contraction beyond the timescale of calcium-dependent mechanisms suggesting the involvement of additional players in the contractile response. Focal adhesions (FAs) are conceivable candidates that may influence SMC contraction. They are required for actin-based traction employed by cells to sense and respond to environmental cues in a process termed mechanotransduction. Depletion of FA proteins impairs SMC contractility, producing arteries that are prone to dissection because of a lack of mechanical stability. Here, we discuss the role of calcium-independent FA signaling mechanisms in SMC contractility. We speculate that FA signaling contributes to the genesis of a variety of SMC phenotypes and discuss the potential implications for mechanical homeostasis in normal and diseased states.

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