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2.  Computational Screening of Tip and Stalk Cell Behavior Proposes a Role for Apelin Signaling in Sprout Progression 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(11):e0159478.
Angiogenesis involves the formation of new blood vessels by sprouting or splitting of existing blood vessels. During sprouting, a highly motile type of endothelial cell, called the tip cell, migrates from the blood vessels followed by stalk cells, an endothelial cell type that forms the body of the sprout. To get more insight into how tip cells contribute to angiogenesis, we extended an existing computational model of vascular network formation based on the cellular Potts model with tip and stalk differentiation, without making a priori assumptions about the differences between tip cells and stalk cells. To predict potential differences, we looked for parameter values that make tip cells (a) move to the sprout tip, and (b) change the morphology of the angiogenic networks. The screening predicted that if tip cells respond less effectively to an endothelial chemoattractant than stalk cells, they move to the tips of the sprouts, which impacts the morphology of the networks. A comparison of this model prediction with genes expressed differentially in tip and stalk cells revealed that the endothelial chemoattractant Apelin and its receptor APJ may match the model prediction. To test the model prediction we inhibited Apelin signaling in our model and in an in vitro model of angiogenic sprouting, and found that in both cases inhibition of Apelin or of its receptor APJ reduces sprouting. Based on the prediction of the computational model, we propose that the differential expression of Apelin and APJ yields a “self-generated” gradient mechanisms that accelerates the extension of the sprout.
PMCID: PMC5102492  PMID: 27828952
3.  CD34 Promotes Pathological Epi-Retinal Neovascularization in a Mouse Model of Oxygen-Induced Retinopathy 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(6):e0157902.
The sialomucins CD34 and podocalyxin (PODXL) are anti-adhesive molecules expressed at the luminal membrane of endothelial cells of small blood vessels and facilitate vascular lumen formation in the developing mouse aorta. CD34 transcript and protein levels are increased during human angiogenesis, its expression is particularly enriched on endothelial tip cell filopodia and CD34 is a marker for tip cells in vitro. Here, we investigated whether CD34 merely marks endothelial tip cells or has a functional role in tip cells and angiogenesis. We assessed that silencing CD34 in human microvascular endothelial cells has little effect on endothelial cell migration or invasion, but has a significant effect on vascular-endothelial growth factor-induced angiogenic sprouting activity in vitro. In vivo, the absence of CD34 reduced the density of filopodia on retinal endothelial tip cells in neonatal mice, but did not influence the overall architecture of the retinal vascular network. In oxygen-induced retinopathy, Cd34-/- mice showed normal intra-retinal regenerative angiogenesis but the number of pathological epi-retinal neovascular tufts were reduced. We conclude that CD34 is not essential for developmental vascularization in the retina, but its expression promotes the formation of pathological, invasive vessels during neovascularization.
PMCID: PMC4924789  PMID: 27352134
4.  Endothelial Tip Cells in Ocular Angiogenesis 
Endothelial tip cells are leading cells at the tips of vascular sprouts coordinating multiple processes during angiogenesis. In the developing retina, tip cells play a tightly controlled, timely role in angiogenesis. In contrast, excessive numbers of tip cells are a characteristic of the chaotic pathological blood vessels in proliferative retinopathies. Tip cells control adjacent endothelial cells in a hierarchical manner to form the stalk of the sprouting vessel, using, among others, the VEGF-DLL-Notch signaling pathway, and recruit pericytes. Tip cells are guided toward avascular areas by signals from the local extracellular matrix that are released by cells from the neuroretina such as astrocytes. Recently, tip cells were identified in endothelial cell cultures, enabling identification of novel molecular markers and mechanisms involved in tip cell biology. These mechanisms are relevant for understanding proliferative retinopathies. Agents that primarily target tip cells can block pathological angiogenesis in the retina efficiently and safely without adverse effects. A striking example is platelet-derived growth factor, which was recently shown to be an efficacious additional target in the treatment of retinal neovascularization. Here we discuss these and other tip cell-based strategies with respect to their potential to treat patients with ocular diseases dominated by neovascularization.
PMCID: PMC3636692  PMID: 23092791
angiogenesis; endothelial tip cell; proliferative retinopathy; anti-angiogenesis therapy; retinal neovascularization; vascular sprouts; endothelial stalk cell; molecular mediators of angiogenesis; pericytes
5.  Vitreous TIMP-1 levels associate with neovascularization and TGF-β2 levels but not with fibrosis in the clinical course of proliferative diabetic retinopathy 
In proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and CCN2 (connective tissue growth factor; CTGF) cause blindness by neovascularization and subsequent fibrosis. This angio-fibrotic switch is associated with a shift in the balance between vitreous levels of CCN2 and VEGF in the eye. Here, we investigated the possible involvement of other important mediators of fibrosis, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP)-1 and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β2, and of the matrix metalloproteinases (MMP)-2 and MMP-9, in the natural course of PDR. TIMP-1, activated TGF-β2, CCN2 and VEGF levels were measured by ELISA in 78 vitreous samples of patients with PDR (n = 28), diabetic patients without PDR (n = 24), and patients with the diabetes-unrelated retinal conditions macular hole (n = 10) or macular pucker (n = 16), and were related to MMP-2 and MMP-9 activity on zymograms and to clinical data, including degree of intra-ocular neovascularization and fibrosis. TIMP-1, CCN2 and VEGF levels, but not activated TGF-β2 levels, were significantly increased in the vitreous of diabetic patients, with the highest levels in PDR patients. CCN2 and the CCN2/VEGF ratio were the strongest predictors of degree of fibrosis. In diabetic patients with or without PDR, activated TGF-β2 levels correlated with TIMP-1 levels, whereas in PDR patients, TIMP-1 levels, MMP-2 and proMMP-9 were associated with degree of neovascularization, like VEGF levels, but not with fibrosis. We confirm here our previous findings that retinal fibrosis in PDR patients is significantly correlated with vitreous CCN2 levels and the CCN2/VEGF ratio. In contrast, TIMP-1, MMP-2 and MMP-9 appear to have a role in the angiogenic phase rather than in the fibrotic phase of PDR.
PMCID: PMC3590360  PMID: 23054594
Diabetic retinopathy; CCN2; VEGF; TGF-β; TIMP-1; MMP-2; MMP-9; Neovascularization; Fibrosis
6.  A shift in the balance of vascular endothelial growth factor and connective tissue growth factor by bevacizumab causes the angiofibrotic switch in proliferative diabetic retinopathy 
In proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) may cause blindness by neovascularisation followed by fibrosis of the retina. It has previously been shown that a shift in the balance between levels of CTGF and VEGF in the eye is associated with this angiofibrotic switch. This study investigated whether anti-VEGF agents induce accelerated fibrosis in patients with PDR, as predicted by this model.
CTGF and VEGF levels were measured by ELISA in 52 vitreous samples of PDR patients, of which 24 patients had received intravitreal bevacizumab 1 week to 3 months before vitrectomy, and were correlated with the degree of vitreoretinal fibrosis as determined clinically and intra-operatively.
CTGF correlated positively, and VEGF correlated negatively with the degree of fibrosis. The CTGF/VEGF ratio was the strongest predictor of fibrosis. Clinically, increased fibrosis was observed after intravitreal bevacizumab.
These results confirm that the CTGF/VEGF ratio is a strong predictor of vitreoretinal fibrosis in PDR, and show that intravitreal anti-VEGF treatment causes increased fibrosis in PDR patients. These findings provide strong support for the model that the balance of CTGF and VEGF determines the angiofibrotic switch, and identify CTGF as a possible therapeutic target in the clinical management of PDR.
PMCID: PMC3308470  PMID: 22289291
Angiogenesis; choroid; CTGF; diabetic retinopathy; drugs; fibrosis; imaging; macula; retina; VEGF; vitreous
7.  CD34 marks angiogenic tip cells in human vascular endothelial cell cultures 
Angiogenesis  2012;15(1):151-163.
The functional shift of quiescent endothelial cells into tip cells that migrate and stalk cells that proliferate is a key event during sprouting angiogenesis. We previously showed that the sialomucin CD34 is expressed in a small subset of cultured endothelial cells and that these cells extend filopodia: a hallmark of tip cells in vivo. In the present study, we characterized endothelial cells expressing CD34 in endothelial monolayers in vitro. We found that CD34-positive human umbilical vein endothelial cells show low proliferation activity and increased mRNA expression of all known tip cell markers, as compared to CD34-negative cells. Genome-wide mRNA profiling analysis of CD34-positive endothelial cells demonstrated enrichment for biological functions related to angiogenesis and migration, whereas CD34-negative cells were enriched for functions related to proliferation. In addition, we found an increase or decrease of CD34-positive cells in vitro upon exposure to stimuli that enhance or limit the number of tip cells in vivo, respectively. Our findings suggest cells with virtually all known properties of tip cells are present in vascular endothelial cell cultures and that they can be isolated based on expression of CD34. This novel strategy may open alternative avenues for future studies of molecular processes and functions in tip cells in angiogenesis.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10456-011-9251-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3274677  PMID: 22249946
Angiogenesis; Endothelial tip cell; Vascular endothelial cell cultures; CD34
8.  The Angio-Fibrotic Switch of VEGF and CTGF in Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(7):e2675.
In proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) cause blindness by neovascularization and subsequent fibrosis, but their relative contribution to both processes is unknown. We hypothesize that the balance between levels of pro-angiogenic VEGF and pro-fibrotic CTGF regulates angiogenesis, the angio-fibrotic switch, and the resulting fibrosis and scarring.
Methods/Principal Findings
VEGF and CTGF were measured by ELISA in 68 vitreous samples of patients with proliferative DR (PDR, N = 32), macular hole (N = 13) or macular pucker (N = 23) and were related to clinical data, including degree of intra-ocular neovascularization and fibrosis. In addition, clinical cases of PDR (n = 4) were studied before and after pan-retinal photocoagulation and intra-vitreal injections with bevacizumab, an antibody against VEGF. Neovascularization and fibrosis in various degrees occurred almost exclusively in PDR patients. In PDR patients, vitreous CTGF levels were significantly associated with degree of fibrosis and with VEGF levels, but not with neovascularization, whereas VEGF levels were associated only with neovascularization. The ratio of CTGF and VEGF was the strongest predictor of degree of fibrosis. As predicted by these findings, patients with PDR demonstrated a temporary increase in intra-ocular fibrosis after anti-VEGF treatment or laser treatment.
CTGF is primarily a pro-fibrotic factor in the eye, and a shift in the balance between CTGF and VEGF is associated with the switch from angiogenesis to fibrosis in proliferative retinopathy.
PMCID: PMC2443281  PMID: 18628999

Results 1-8 (8)