An apparatus which has been developed to study the response of cultured endothelial cells to a wide range of shear stress levels is described. Controlled laminar flow through a rectangular tube was used to generate fluid shear stress over a cell-lined coverslip comprising part of one wall of the tube. A finite element method was used to calculate shear stresses corresponding to cell position on the coverslip. Validity of the finite element analysis was demonstrated first by its ability to generate correctly velocity profiles and wall shear stresses for laminar flow in the entrance region between infinitely wide parallel plates (two-dimensional flow). The computer analysis also correctly predicted values for pressure difference between two points in the test region of the apparatus for the range of flow rates used in these experiments. These predictions thus supported the use of such an analysis for three-dimensional flow. This apparatus has been used in a series of experiments to confirm its utility for testing applications. In these studies, endothelial cells were exposed to shear stresses of 60 and 128 dynes/cm2. After 12 hr at 60 dynes/cm2, cells became aligned with their longitudinal axes parallel to the direction of flow. In contrast, cells exposed to 128 dynes/cm2 required 36 hr to achieve a similar reorientation. Interestingly, after 6 hr at 128 dynes/cm2, specimens passed through an intermediate phase in which cells were aligned perpendicular to flow direction. Because of its ease and use and the provided documentation of wall shear stress, this flow chamber should prove to be a valuable tool in endothelial research related to atherosclerosis.

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