Angiogenesis requires coordinated changes in cell shape of endothelial cells (ECs), orchestrated by the actin cytoskeleton. The mechanisms that regulate this rearrangement in vivo are poorly understood - largely because of the difficulty to visualize filamentous actin (F-actin) structures with sufficient resolution. Here, we use transgenic mice expressing Lifeact-EGFP to visualize F-actin in ECs. We show that in the retina, Lifeact-EGFP expression is largely restricted to ECs allowing detailed visualization of F-actin in ECs in situ. Lifeact-EGFP labels actin associated with cell-cell junctions, apical and basal membranes and highlights actin-based structures such as filopodia and stress fiber-like cytoplasmic bundles. We also show that in the skin and the skeletal muscle, Lifeact-EGFP is highly expressed in vascular mural cells (vMCs), enabling vMC imaging. In summary, our results indicate that the Lifeact-EGFP transgenic mouse in combination with the postnatal retinal angiogenic model constitutes an excellent system for vascular cell biology research. Our approach is ideally suited to address structural and mechanistic details of angiogenic processes, such as endothelial tip cell migration and fusion, EC polarization or lumen formation.
Angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, involves specification of endothelial cells to tip cells and stalk cells, which is controlled by Notch signalling, whereas vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR)-2 and VEGFR-3 have been implicated in angiogenic sprouting. Surprisingly, we found that endothelial deletion of Vegfr3, but not VEGFR-3-blocking antibodies, postnatally led to excessive angiogenic sprouting and branching, and decreased the level of Notch signalling, indicating that VEGFR-3 possesses passive and active signalling modalities. Furthermore, macrophages expressing the VEGFR-3 and VEGFR-2 ligand VEGF-C localized to vessel branch points, and Vegfc heterozygous mice exhibited inefficient angiogenesis characterized by decreased vascular branching. FoxC2 is a known regulator of Notch ligand and target gene expression, and Foxc2+/−; Vegfr3+/− compound heterozygosity recapitulated homozygous loss of Vegfr3. These results indicate that macrophage-derived VEGF-C activates VEGFR-3 in tip cells to reinforce Notch signalling, which contributes to the phenotypic conversion of endothelial cells at fusion points of vessel sprouts.
Myeloid cells are a feature of most tissues. Here we show that during development, retinal myeloid cells (RMCs) produce Wnt ligands to regulate blood vessel branching. In the mouse retina, where angiogenesis occurs postnatally1, somatic deletion in RMCs of the Wnt ligand transporter Wntless2,3 results in increased angiogenesis in the deeper layers. We also show that mutation of Wnt5a and Wnt11 results in increased angiogenesis and that these ligands elicit RMC responses via a non-canonical Wnt pathway. Using cultured myeloid-like cells and RMC somatic deletion of Flt1, we show that an effector of Wnt-dependent suppression of angiogenesis by RMCs is Flt1, a naturally occurring inhibitor of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)4-6. These findings indicate that resident myeloid cells can use a non-canonical, Wnt-Flt1 pathway to suppress angiogenic branching.
Diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity are diseases caused by pathological angiogenesis in the retina as a consequence of local hypoxia. The underlying mechanism for epiretinal neovascularization (tuft formation), which contributes to blindness, has yet to be identified. Neural cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM) is expressed by Müller cells and astrocytes, which are in close contact with the retinal vasculature, during normal developmental angiogenesis.
Notably, during oxygen induced retinopathy (OIR) N-CAM accumulated on astrocytes surrounding the epiretinal tufts. Here, we show that N-CAM ablation results in reduced vascular tuft formation due to reduced endothelial cell proliferation despite an elevation in VEGFA mRNA expression, whereas retinal developmental angiogenesis was unaffected.
We conclude that N-CAM exhibits a regulatory function in pathological angiogenesis in OIR. This is a novel finding that can be of clinical relevance in diseases associated with proliferative vasculopathy.
Myeloid cells have been associated with physiological and pathological angiogenesis, but their exact functions in these processes remain poorly defined. Monocyte-derived tissue macrophages of the CNS, or microglial cells, invade the mammalian retina before it becomes vascularized. Recent studies correlate the presence of microglia in the developing CNS with vascular network formation, but it is not clear whether the effect is directly caused by microglia and their contact with the endothelium.
We combined in vivo studies of the developing mouse retina with in vitro studies using the aortic ring model to address the role of microglia in developmental angiogenesis. Our in vivo analyses are consistent with previous findings that microglia are present at sites of endothelial tip-cell anastomosis, and genetic ablation of microglia caused a sparser vascular network associated with reduced number of filopodia-bearing sprouts. Addition of microglia in the aortic ring model was sufficient to stimulate vessel sprouting. The effect was independent of physical contact between microglia and endothelial cells, and could be partly mimicked using microglial cell-conditioned medium. Addition of VEGF-A promoted angiogenic sprouts of different morphology in comparison with the microglial cells, and inhibition of VEGF-A did not affect the microglia-induced angiogenic response, arguing that the proangiogenic factor(s) released by microglia is distinct from VEGF-A. Finally, microglia exhibited oriented migration towards the vessels in the aortic ring cultures.
Microglia stimulate vessel sprouting in the aortic ring cultures via a soluble microglial-derived product(s), rather than direct contact with endothelial cells. The observed migration of microglia towards the growing sprouts suggests that their position near endothelial tip-cells could result from attractive cues secreted by the vessels. Our data reveals a two-way communication between microglia and vessels that depends on soluble factors and should extend the understanding of how microglia promote vascular network formation.
The angiogenic sprout has been compared to the growing axon, and indeed, many proteins direct pathfinding by both structures1. The Roundabout (Robo) proteins are guidance receptors with well-established functions in the nervous system2,3; however, their role in the mammalian vasculature remains ill defined4–8. Here we show that an endothelial-specific Robo, Robo4, maintains vascular integrity. Activation of Robo4 by Slit2 inhibits vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-165–induced migration, tube formation and permeability in vitro and VEGF-165–stimulated vascular leak in vivo by blocking Src family kinase activation. In mouse models of retinal and choroidal vascular disease, Slit2 inhibited angiogenesis and vascular leak, whereas deletion of Robo4 enhanced these pathologic processes. Our results define a previously unknown function for Robo receptors in stabilizing the vasculature and suggest that activating Robo4 may have broad therapeutic application in diseases characterized by excessive angiogenesis and/or vascular leak.
The study of biological processes has become increasingly reliant on obtaining high-resolution spatial and temporal data through imaging techniques. As researchers demand molecular resolution of cellular events in the context of whole organisms, correlation of non-invasive live-organism imaging with electron microscopy in complex three-dimensional samples becomes critical. The developing blood vessels of vertebrates form a highly complex network which cannot be imaged at high resolution using traditional methods. Here we show that the point of fusion between growing blood vessels of transgenic zebrafish, identified in live confocal microscopy, can subsequently be traced through the structure of the organism using Focused Ion Beam/Scanning Electron Microscopy (FIB/SEM) and Serial Block Face/Scanning Electron Microscopy (SBF/SEM). The resulting data give unprecedented microanatomical detail of the zebrafish and, for the first time, allow visualization of the ultrastructure of a time-limited biological event within the context of a whole organism.
Vascular abnormalities contribute to many diseases such as cancer and diabetic retinopathy. In angiogenesis new blood vessels, headed by a migrating tip cell, sprout from pre-existing vessels in response to signals, e.g., vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Tip cells meet and fuse (anastomosis) to form blood-flow supporting loops. Tip cell selection is achieved by Dll4-Notch mediated lateral inhibition resulting, under normal conditions, in an interleaved arrangement of tip and non-migrating stalk cells. Previously, we showed that the increased VEGF levels found in many diseases can cause the delayed negative feedback of lateral inhibition to produce abnormal oscillations of tip/stalk cell fates. Here we describe the development and implementation of a novel physics-based hierarchical agent model, tightly coupled to in vivo data, to explore the system dynamics as perpetual lateral inhibition combines with tip cell migration and fusion. We explore the tipping point between normal and abnormal sprouting as VEGF increases. A novel filopodia-adhesion driven migration mechanism is presented and validated against in vivo data. Due to the unique feature of ongoing lateral inhibition, ‘stabilised’ tip/stalk cell patterns show sensitivity to the formation of new cell-cell junctions during fusion: we predict cell fates can reverse. The fusing tip cells become inhibited and neighbouring stalk cells flip fate, recursively providing new tip cells. Junction size emerges as a key factor in establishing a stable tip/stalk pattern. Cell-cell junctions elongate as tip cells migrate, which is shown to provide positive feedback to lateral inhibition, causing it to be more susceptible to pathological oscillations. Importantly, down-regulation of the migratory pathway alone is shown to be sufficient to rescue the sprouting system from oscillation and restore stability. Thus we suggest the use of migration inhibitors as therapeutic agents for vascular normalisation in cancer.
Abnormal vasculature exacerbates many diseases such as cancer and diabetic retinopathy. In angiogenesis new blood vessels, headed by a migrating tip cell, sprout from pre-existing vessels in response to chemical signals. The signals are released from newly oxygen deficient tissue. The signals are known to be different in disease and are thought to cause the process of angiogenesis to progress abnormally, though the reasons for this remain unclear. Normalisation of angiogenesis has great potential as a therapeutic strategy; it has been shown to reduce metastasis and improve drug delivery in tumours. Here we focus on the behaviours of three inter-related initial angiogenic pathways associated with changes in tissue signal conditions, utilising both in silico and in vivo approaches. By the construction and implementation of a novel computational model for cell motility and signal processing we present a new theory on why angiogenesis exhibits such sensitivity to signal changes and show that the behaviour in disease is surprisingly more robust than normal functioning. This we attribute to the positive feedback of cell migration reinforcing abnormal oscillations in cell fate selection. We make the unique prediction that normalisation could be achieved by reducing cell migration alone.
The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is confined to the endothelium of brain capillaries and is indispensable for fluid homeostasis and neuronal function. In this study, we show that endothelial Wnt/β-catenin (β-cat) signaling regulates induction and maintenance of BBB characteristics during embryonic and postnatal development. Endothelial specific stabilization of β-cat in vivo enhances barrier maturation, whereas inactivation of β-cat causes significant down-regulation of claudin3 (Cldn3), up-regulation of plamalemma vesicle-associated protein, and BBB breakdown. Stabilization of β-cat in primary brain endothelial cells (ECs) in vitro by N-terminal truncation or Wnt3a treatment increases Cldn3 expression, BBB-type tight junction formation, and a BBB characteristic gene signature. Loss of β-cat or inhibition of its signaling abrogates this effect. Furthermore, stabilization of β-cat also increased Cldn3 and barrier properties in nonbrain-derived ECs. These findings may open new therapeutic avenues to modulate endothelial barrier function and to limit the devastating effects of BBB breakdown.
The cellular actions of VEGF need to be coordinated to guide vascular patterning during sprouting angiogenesis. Individual endothelial tip cells lead and guide the blood vessel sprout, while neighbouring stalk cells proliferate and form the vascular lumen. Recent studies illustrate how endothelial DLL4/NOTCH signalling, stimulated by VEGF, regulates the sprouting response by limiting tip cell formation in the stalk. The spatial distribution of VEGF, in turn, regulates the shape of the ensuing sprout by directing tip cell migration and determining stalk cell proliferation.
VEGF; Notch; angiogenesis; tip cells; vascular patterning
Mucin-type O-glycans (O-glycans) are highly expressed in vascular ECs. However, it is not known whether they are important for vascular development. To investigate the roles of EC O-glycans, we generated mice lacking T-synthase, a glycosyltransferase encoded by the gene C1galt1 that is critical for the biosynthesis of core 1–derived O-glycans, in ECs and hematopoietic cells (termed here EHC T-syn–/– mice). EHC T-syn–/– mice exhibited embryonic and neonatal lethality associated with disorganized and blood-filled lymphatic vessels. Bone marrow transplantation and EC C1galt1 transgene rescue demonstrated that lymphangiogenesis specifically requires EC O-glycans, and intestinal lymphatic microvessels in EHC T-syn–/– mice expressed a mosaic of blood and lymphatic EC markers. The level of O-glycoprotein podoplanin was significantly reduced in EHC T-syn–/– lymphatics, and podoplanin-deficient mice developed blood-filled lymphatics resembling EHC T-syn–/– defects. In addition, postnatal inactivation of C1galt1 caused blood/lymphatic vessel misconnections that were similar to the vascular defects in the EHC T-syn–/– mice. One consequence of eliminating T-synthase in ECs and hematopoietic cells was that the EHC T-syn–/– pups developed fatty liver disease, because of direct chylomicron deposition via misconnected portal vein and intestinal lymphatic systems. Our studies therefore demonstrate that EC O-glycans control the separation of blood and lymphatic vessels during embryonic and postnatal development, in part by regulating podoplanin expression.
Tubular sprouting in angiogenesis relies on division of labour between endothelial tip cells, leading and guiding the sprout, and their neighboring stalk cells, which divide and form the vascular lumen. We previously learned how the graded extracellular distribution of heparin-binding vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A orchestrates and balances tip and stalk cell behavior. Recent data now provided insight into the regulation of tip cell numbers, illustrating how delta-like (Dll)4-Notch signalling functions to limit the explorative tip cell behavior induced by VEGF-A. These data also provided a first answer to the question why not all endothelial cells stimulated by VEGF-A turn into tip cells. Here we review this new model and discuss how VEGF-A and Dll4/Notch signalling may interact dynamically at the cellular level to control vascular patterning.
Notch; angiogenesis; mouse development; VEGF-A; tip cells
Previously we observed that neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) deficiency in β tumor cells facilitates metastasis into distant organs and local lymph nodes. Here, we show that NCAM-deficient β cell tumors grew leaky blood vessels with perturbed pericyte-endothelial cell-cell interactions and deficient perivascular deposition of ECM components. Conversely, tumor cell expression of NCAM in a fibrosarcoma model (T241) improved pericyte recruitment and increased perivascular deposition of ECM molecules. Together, these findings suggest that NCAM may limit tumor cell metastasis by stabilizing the microvessel wall. To directly address whether pericyte dysfunction increases the metastatic potential of solid tumors, we studied β cell tumorigenesis in primary pericyte-deficient Pdgfbret/ret mice. This resulted in β tumor cell metastases in distant organs and local lymph nodes, demonstrating a role for pericytes in limiting tumor cell metastasis. These data support a new model for how tumor cells trigger metastasis by perturbing pericyte-endothelial cell-cell interactions.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF-A) is a major regulator of blood vessel formation and function. It controls several processes in endothelial cells, such as proliferation, survival, and migration, but it is not known how these are coordinately regulated to result in more complex morphogenetic events, such as tubular sprouting, fusion, and network formation. We show here that VEGF-A controls angiogenic sprouting in the early postnatal retina by guiding filopodial extension from specialized endothelial cells situated at the tips of the vascular sprouts. The tip cells respond to VEGF-A only by guided migration; the proliferative response to VEGF-A occurs in the sprout stalks. These two cellular responses are both mediated by agonistic activity of VEGF-A on VEGF receptor 2. Whereas tip cell migration depends on a gradient of VEGF-A, proliferation is regulated by its concentration. Thus, vessel patterning during retinal angiogenesis depends on the balance between two different qualities of the extracellular VEGF-A distribution, which regulate distinct cellular responses in defined populations of endothelial cells.
VEGF; endothelial cell; filopodia; astrocyte; migration; proliferation
Mouse embryos genetically null for the αv integrin subunit develop intracerebral hemorrhages at midgestation and die shortly after birth. A key question is whether the hemorrhage arises from primary defects in vascular endothelial cells or pericytes or from other causes. We have previously reported normal initiation of cerebral vessels comprising branched tubes of endothelial cells. Here we show that the onset of hemorrhage is not due to defects in pericyte recruitment. Additionally, most αv-null vessels display ultrastructurally normal endothelium-pericyte associations and normal interendothelial cell junctions. Thus, endothelial cells and pericytes appear to establish their normal relationships in cerebral microvessels. However, by both light and electron microscopy, we detected defective associations between cerebral microvessels and the surrounding brain parenchyma, composed of neuroepithelial cells, glia, and neuronal precursors. These data suggest a novel role for αv integrins in the association between cerebral microvessels and central nervous system parenchymal cells.
The association of pericytes (PCs) to newly formed blood vessels has been suggested to regulate endothelial cell (EC) proliferation, survival, migration, differentiation, and vascular branching. Here, we addressed these issues using PDGF-B– and PDGF receptor-β (PDGFR-β)–deficient mice as in vivo models of brain angiogenesis in the absence of PCs. Quantitative morphological analysis showed that these mutants have normal microvessel density, length, and number of branch points. However, absence of PCs correlates with endothelial hyperplasia, increased capillary diameter, abnormal EC shape and ultrastructure, changed cellular distribution of certain junctional proteins, and morphological signs of increased transendothelial permeability. Brain endothelial hyperplasia was observed already at embryonic day (E) 11.5 and persisted throughout development. From E 13.5, vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) and other genes responsive to metabolic stress became upregulated, suggesting that the abnormal microvessel architecture has systemic metabolic consequences. VEGF-A upregulation correlated temporally with the occurrence of vascular abnormalities in the placenta and dilation of the heart. Thus, although PC deficiency appears to have direct effects on EC number before E 13.5, the subsequent increased VEGF-A levels may further abrogate microvessel architecture, promote vascular permeability, and contribute to formation of the edematous phenotype observed in late gestation PDGF-B and PDGFR-β knock out embryos.
mice; angiogenesis; pericytes; platelet-derived growth factor B; vascular endothelial growth factor