Neural stem cells (NSCs) are slowly dividing astrocytes that are intimately associated with capillary endothelial cells in the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the brain. Functionally, members of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family can stimulate neurogenesis as well as angiogenesis, but it has been unclear whether they act directly via VEGF receptors (VEGFRs) expressed by neural cells, or indirectly via the release of growth factors from angiogenic capillaries. Here, we show that VEGFR-3, a receptor required for lymphangiogenesis, is expressed by NSCs and is directly required for neurogenesis. Vegfr3:YFP reporter mice show VEGFR-3 expression in multipotent NSCs, which are capable of self-renewal and are activated by the VEGFR-3 ligand VEGF-C in vitro. Overexpression of VEGF-C stimulates VEGFR-3-expressing NSCs and neurogenesis in the SVZ without affecting angiogenesis. Conversely, conditional deletion of Vegfr3 in neural cells, inducible deletion in subventricular astrocytes, and blocking of VEGFR-3 signaling with antibodies reduce SVZ neurogenesis. Therefore, VEGF-C/VEGFR-3 signaling acts directly on NSCs and regulates adult neurogenesis, opening potential approaches for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
2011. Vol. 25, no 8