JOURNAL ARTICLE

Study of the actin cytoskeleton in live endothelial cells expressing GFP-actin

Travis M Doggett, Jerome W Breslin
Journal of Visualized Experiments: JoVE 2011, (57)
22126853
The microvascular endothelium plays an important role as a selectively permeable barrier to fluids and solutes. The adhesive junctions between endothelial cells regulate permeability of the endothelium, and many studies have indicated the important contribution of the actin cytoskeleton to determining junctional integrity(1-5). A cortical actin belt is thought to be important for the maintenance of stable junctions(1, 2, 4, 5). In contrast, actin stress fibers are thought to generate centripetal tension within endothelial cells that weakens junctions(2-5). Much of this theory has been based on studies in which endothelial cells are treated with inflammatory mediators known to increase endothelial permeability, and then fixing the cells and labeling F-actin for microscopic observation. However, these studies provide a very limited understanding of the role of the actin cytoskeleton because images of fixed cells provide only snapshots in time with no information about the dynamics of actin structures(5). Live-cell imaging allows incorporation of the dynamic nature of the actin cytoskeleton into the studies of the mechanisms determining endothelial barrier integrity. A major advantage of this method is that the impact of various inflammatory stimuli on actin structures in endothelial cells can be assessed in the same set of living cells before and after treatment, removing potential bias that may occur when observing fixed specimens. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) are transfected with a GFP-β-actin plasmid and grown to confluence on glass coverslips. Time-lapse images of GFP-actin in confluent HUVEC are captured before and after the addition of inflammatory mediators that elicit time-dependent changes in endothelial barrier integrity. These studies enable visual observation of the fluid sequence of changes in the actin cytoskeleton that contribute to endothelial barrier disruption and restoration. Our results consistently show local, actin-rich lamellipodia formation and turnover in endothelial cells. The formation and movement of actin stress fibers can also be observed. An analysis of the frequency of formation and turnover of the local lamellipodia, before and after treatment with inflammatory stimuli can be documented by kymograph analyses. These studies provide important information on the dynamic nature of the actin cytoskeleton in endothelial cells that can used to discover previously unidentified molecular mechanisms important for the maintenance of endothelial barrier integrity.

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