It is well known that arteries grow and remodel in response to mechanical stimuli. Vascular smooth muscle cells are the main mediators of this process, as they can switch phenotype from contractile to synthetic, and vice-versa, based on the surrounding bio-chemo-mechanical stimuli. A correct regulation of this phenotypic switch is fundamental to obtain and maintain arterial homeostasis. Notch, a mechanosensitive signaling pathway, is one of the main regulators of the vascular smooth muscle cell phenotype. Therefore, understanding Notch dynamics is key to elucidate arterial growth, remodeling, and mechanobiology. We have recently developed a one-dimensional agent-based model to investigate Notch signaling in arteries. However, due to its one-dimensional formulation, the model cannot be adopted to study complex nonsymmetrical geometries and, importantly, it cannot capture the realistic “cell connectivity” in arteries, here defined as the number of cell neighbors. Notch functions via direct cell-cell contact; thus, the number of cell neighbors could be an essential feature of Notch dynamics. Here, we extended the agent-based model to a two-dimensional formulation, to investigate the effects of cell connectivity on Notch dynamics and cell phenotypes in arteries. The computational results, supported by a sensitivity analysis, indicate that cell connectivity has marginal effects when Notch dynamics is dominated by the process of lateral induction, which induces all cells to have a uniform phenotype. When lateral induction is weaker, cells exhibit a nonuniform phenotype distribution and the percentage of synthetic cells within an artery depends on the number of neighbors.
Full Access Link: International Journal for Numerical Methods in Biomedical Engineering