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.
2011. Vol. 13, no 10