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Growth factors

Formation of endothelial cell networks


The growth factor VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) promotes the formation of blood vessels in a process known as angiogenesis by inducing the proliferation and migration of endothelial cells1. We show here that VEGF has another proangiogenic function — it can stimulate the elongation, network formation and branching of non-proliferating endothelial cells in culture that are deprived of oxygen and nutrients. As endothelial cells in tumours are exposed to chronic or intermittent hypoxic conditions2,3, we propose that autocrine endothelial VEGF contributes to the formation of blood vessels in a tumour and promotes its survival.

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Figure 1: VEGF produced by endothelial cells (ECs) promotes network formation in the hypoxic region of tumour-mimetic sandwich cultures.
Figure 2: Measurement of spatial and temporal gradients of pO2 and VEGF, and segment and branch lengths across the width of HUVEC sandwich cultures.

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Helmlinger, G., Endo, M., Ferrara, N. et al. Formation of endothelial cell networks. Nature 405, 139–141 (2000).

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