Glycocalyx sialic acids regulate Nrf2-mediated signaling by fluid shear stress in human endothelial cells

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Activation of the nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) pathway is critical for vascular endothelial redox homeostasis in regions of high, unidirectional shear stress (USS), however the underlying mechanosensitive mediators are not fully understood. The endothelial glycocalyx is disrupted in arterial areas exposed to disturbed blood flow that also exhibit enhanced oxidative stress leading to atherogenesis. We investigated the contribution of glycocalyx sialic acids (SIA) to Nrf2 signaling in human endothelial cells (EC) exposed to atheroprotective USS or atherogenic low oscillatory shear stress (OSS). Cells exposed to USS exhibited a thicker glycocalyx and enhanced turnover of SIA which was reduced in cells cultured under OSS. Physiological USS, but not disturbed OSS, enhanced Nrf2-mediated expression of antioxidant enzymes, which was attenuated following SIA cleavage with exogenous neuraminidase. SIA removal disrupted kinase signaling involved in the nuclear accumulation of Nrf2 elicited by USS and promoted mitochondrial reactive oxygen species accumulation. Notably, knockdown of the endogenous sialidase NEU1 potentiated Nrf2 target gene expression, directly implicating SIA in regulation of Nrf2 signaling by USS. In the absence of SIA, deficits in Nrf2 responses to physiological flow were also associated with a pro-inflammatory EC phenotype. This study demonstrates that the glycocalyx modulates endothelial redox state in response to shear stress and provides the first evidence of an atheroprotective synergism between SIA and Nrf2 antioxidant signaling. The endothelial glycocalyx therefore represents a potential therapeutic target against EC dysfunction in cardiovascular disease and redox dyshomeostasis in ageing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101816
JournalRedox Biology
Issue numberJanuary 2021
Early online date28 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Glycocalyx
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Shear stress
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Nrf2
  • Antioxidant defenses
  • Endothelium, Vascular
  • Ageing


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