Background: Mechanical stretch has been shown to induce vascular remodeling and increase vessel density, but the pathophysiologic mechanisms and the morphologic changes induced by tensile forces to dermal vessels are poorly understood.
Methods: A custom computer-controlled stretch device was designed and applied to the backs of C57BL/6 mice (n = 38). Dermal and vascular remodeling was studied over a 7-day period. Corrosion casting and three-dimensional scanning electron microscopy and CD31 staining were performed to analyze microvessel morphology. Hypoxia was assessed by immunohistochemistry. Western blot analysis of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and mRNA expression of VEGF receptors was performed.
Results: Skin stretching was associated with increased angiogenesis as demonstrated by CD31 staining and vessel corrosion casting where intervascular distance and vessel diameter were decreased (p < 0.01). Immediately after stretching, VEGF dimers were increased. Messenger RNA expression of VEGF receptor 1, VEGF receptor 2, neuropilin 1, and neuropilin 2 was increased starting as early as 2 hours after stretching. Highly proliferating epidermal cells induced epidermal hypoxia starting at day 3 (p < 0.01).
Conclusions: Identification of significant hypoxic cells occurred after identification of neovessels, suggesting an alternative mechanism. Increased expression of angiogenic receptors and stabilization of VEGF dimers may be involved in a mechanotransductive, prehypoxic induction of neovascularization.