Orf virus, a member of the poxvirus family, produces a pustular dermatitis in sheep, goats, and humans. The lesions induced after infection with orf virus show extensive proliferation of vascular endothelial cells, dilation of blood vessels and dermal swelling. An explanation for the nature of these lesions may lie in the discovery that orf virus encodes an apparent homolog of the mammalian vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family of molecules. These molecules mediate endothelial cell proliferation, vascular permeability, angiogenesis, and lymphangiogenesis via the endothelial cell receptors VEGFR-1 (Flt1), VEGFR-2 (KDR/Flk1), and VEGFR-3 (Flt4). The VEGF-like protein of orf virus strain NZ2 (ORFV2-VEGF) is most closely related in primary structure to VEGF. In this study we examined the biological activities and receptor specificity of the ORFV2-VEGF protein. ORFV2-VEGF was found to be a disulfide-linked homodimer with a subunit of approximately 25 kDa. ORFV2-VEGF showed mitogenic activity on bovine aortic and human microvascular endothelial cells and induced vascular permeability. ORFV2-VEGF was found to bind and induce autophosphorylation of VEGFR-2 and was unable to bind or activate VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-3, but bound the newly identified VEGF165 receptor neuropilin-1. These results indicate that, from a functional viewpoint, ORFV2-VEGF is indeed a member of the VEGF family of molecules, but is unique, however, in that it utilizes only VEGFR-2 and neuropilin-1.
1999. Vol. 96, no 6