Blood vessels are mechanically active tissues that contract and relax periodically. The vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) comprising the medial layer of the blood vessel wall can exist in two phenotypic states called “contractile” or “synthetic”. While it is well known that the differentiation status of these cells oscillates in response to biochemical cues almost nothing is known about the role of mechanical forces on this phenotypic switch. I aim to study the role of extrinsic and intrinsic forces on driving the changes in gene expression and functional states of VSMCs using mechanical and molecular perturbations (such as tuneable stiffness hydrogels) and high end quantitative imaging (such as traction force microscopy and 3D tissue imaging). This project will reveal how dynamic responsiveness to mechanical forces is translated into structural and functional remodeling and phenotypic switching of cells, the failure of which can contribute to vascular pathology. Moreover, the fundamental principles revealed from this study will be widely applicable to mechanically responsive cell systems.
Dr. Talwar currently works with the Assoian Lab.