Mechanoresponsive ETS1 causes endothelial dysfunction and arterialization in varicose veins via NOTCH4/DLL4 signaling

European Journal of Cell Biology   | Volume 103, Issue 2,2024,151420|

B.J. Sreelakshmi, C.L. Karthika, S. Ahalya, S.R. Kalpana, C.C. Kartha, S. Sumi


Varicose veins are the most common venous disorder in humans and are characterized by hemodynamic instability due to valvular insufficiency and orthostatic lifestyle factors. It is unclear how changes in biomechanical signals cause aberrant remodeling of the vein wall. Our previous studies suggest that Notch signaling is implicated in varicose vein arterialization. In the arterial system, mechanoresponsive ETS1 is a transcriptional activator of the endothelial Notch, but its involvement in sensing disrupted venous flow and varicose vein formation has not been investigated. Here, we use human varicose veins and cultured human venous endothelial cells to show that disturbed venous shear stress activates ETS1-NOTCH4/DLL4 signaling. Notch components were highly expressed in the neointima, whereas ETS1 was upregulated in all histological layers of varicose veins. In vitro microfluidic flow-based studies demonstrate that even minute changes in venous flow patterns enhance ETS1-NOTCH4/DLL4 signaling. Uniform venous shear stress, albeit an inherently low-flow system, does not induce ETS1 and Notch proteins. ETS1 activation under altered flow was mediated primarily by MEK1/2 and, to a lesser extent, by MEK5 but was independent of p38 MAP kinase. Endothelial cell-specific ETS1 knockdown prevented disturbed flow-induced NOTCH4/DLL4 expression. TK216, an inhibitor of ETS-family, prevented the acquisition of arterial molecular identity and loss of endothelial integrity in cells exposed to the ensuing altered shear stress. We conclude that ETS1 senses blood flow disturbances and may promote venous remodeling by inducing endothelial dysfunction. Targeting ETS1 rather than downstream Notch proteins could be an effective and safe strategy to develop varicose vein therapies.


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