Physiologic Properties and Regulation of the Actin Cytoskeleton in Vascular Smooth Muscle

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Vascular smooth muscle tone plays a fundamental role in regulating blood pressure, blood flow, microcirculation, and other cardiovascular functions. The cellular and molecular mechanisms by which vascular smooth muscle contractility is regulated are not completely elucidated. Recent studies show that the actin cytoskeleton in smooth muscle is dynamic, which regulates force development. In this review, evidence for actin polymerization in smooth muscle upon external stimulation is summarized. Protein kinases such as Abelson tyrosine kinase, focal adhesion kinase, Src, and mitogen-activated protein kinase have been documented to coordinate actin polymerization in smooth muscle. Transmembrane integrins have also been reported to link to signaling pathways modulating actin dynamics. The roles of Rho family of the small proteins that bind to guanosine triphosphate (GTP), also known as GTPases, and the actin-regulatory proteins, including Crk-associated substrate, neuronal Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome protein, the Arp2/3 complex, and profilin, and heat shock proteins in regulating actin assembly are discussed. These new findings promote our understanding on how smooth muscle contraction is regulated at cellular and molecular levels.

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