The endothelium solves problems that endothelial cells do not know exist

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The endothelium is the single layer of cells that lines the entire cardiovascular system and that regulates vascular tone and blood-tissue exchange, recruits blood cells, modulates blood clotting and determines the formation of new blood vessels. To control each function, the endothelium uses a remarkable sensory capability to continuously monitor vanishingly small changes in the concentration of many simultaneously arriving extracellular activators that each provide cues to physiological state. Here, we suggest that the extraordinary sensory capabilities of the endothelium does not come from single cells but from the combined activity of a large number of endothelial cells. Each cell has a limited, but distinctive, sensory capacity and shares information with neighbours so that sensing is distributed among cells. Communication of information among connected cells provides a system-level sensing substantially greater than the capabilities of any single cell and, as a collective, the endothelium solves sensory problems too complex for any single cell.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-338
Number of pages17
JournalTrends in Pharmacological Sciences
Issue number4
Early online date16 Feb 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Feb 2017


  • endothelium
  • cardiovascular system
  • sensory capacity

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