The endothelium is an important regulator of arterial vascular tone, acting to release nitric oxide (NO) and open Ca2+-activated K+ (KCa) channels to relax vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). While agonists acting at endothelial cell (EC) receptors are widely used to assess the ability of the endothelium to reduce vascular tone, the intrinsic EC-dependent mechanisms are less well characterized. In small resistance arteries and arterioles, the presence of heterocellular gap junctions termed myoendothelial gap junctions (MEGJs) allows the passage of not only current, but small molecules including Ca2+ and inositol trisphosphate (IP3). When stimulated to contract, the increase in VSM Ca2+ and IP3 can therefore potentially pass through MEGJs to activate adjacent ECs. This activation releases NO and opens KCa channels, which act to limit contraction. This myoendothelial feedback (MEF) is amplified by EC Ca2+ influx and release pathways, and is dynamically modulated by processes regulating gap junction conductance. There is a remarkable localization of key signaling and regulatory proteins within the EC projection toward VSM, and the intrinsic EC-dependent signaling pathways occurring with this highly specialized microdomain are reviewed.
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Ca(2+), Ca(2+)-activated K(+) channels, EC-dependent dilation, IP(3), Myoendothelial gap junctions, Nitric oxide, Signaling microdomain, Transient receptor potential channels