Actin cytoskeletal dynamics in smooth muscle: A new paradigm for the regulation of smooth muscle contraction

Susan J. Gunst, Wenwu Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

210 Scopus citations


A growing body of data supports a view of the actin cytoskeleton of smooth muscle cells as a dynamic structure that plays an integral role in regulating the development of mechanical tension and the material properties of smooth muscle tissues. The increase in the proportion of filamentous actin that occurs in response to the stimulation of smooth muscle cells and the essential role of stimulus-induced actin polymerization and cytoskeletal dynamics in the generation of mechanical tension has been convincingly documented in many smooth muscle tissues and cells using a wide variety of experimental approaches. Most of the evidence suggests that the functional role of actin polymerization during contraction is distinct and separately regulated from the actomyosin cross-bridge cycling process. The molecular basis for the regulation of actin polymerization and its physiological roles may vary in diverse types of smooth muscle cells and tissues. However, current evidence supports a model for smooth muscle contraction in which contractile stimulation initiates the assembly of cytoskeletal/ extracellular matrix adhesion complex proteins at the membrane, and proteins within this complex orchestrate the polymerization and organization of a submembranous network of actin filaments. This cytoskeletal network may serve to strengthen the membrane for the transmission of force generated by the contractile apparatus to the extracellular matrix, and to enable the adaptation of smooth muscle cells to mechanical stresses. Better understanding of the physiological function of these dynamic cytoskeletal processes in smooth muscle may provide important insights into the physiological regulation of smooth muscle tissues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C576-C587
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2008



  • Actin polymerization
  • Adhesion junction
  • Contractile activation
  • Cytoskeletal signaling
  • Smooth muscle tissue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology

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