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Summary

Interendothelial junctions play an important role in the regulation of endothelial functions, such as vasculogenesis, angiogenesis, and vascular permeability. In this paper we show that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a potent inducer of new blood vessels and vascular permeability in vivo, stimulated the migration of endothelial cells after artificial monolayer wounding and induced an increase in paracellular permeability of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Furthermore, VEGF increased phosphotyrosine labeling at cell-cell contacts. Biochemical analyses revealed a strong induction of VEGF-receptor-2 (flk-1/KDR) tyrosine-autophosphorylation by VEGF which was maximal after 5 minutes and was followed by receptor downregulation. 15 minutes to 1 hour after VEGF stimulation the endothelial adherens junction components VE-cadherin, beta-catenin, plakoglobin, and p120 were maximally phosphorylated on tyrosine, while alpha-catenin was not modified. PECAM-1/CD31, another cell-cell junctional adhesive molecule, was tyrosine phosphorylated with similar kinetics in response to VEGF. In contrast, activation of VEGF-receptor-1 (Flt-1) by its specific ligand placenta growth factor (PlGF) had no effect on the tyrosine phosphorylation of cadherins and catenins. Despite the rapid and transient receptor activation and the subsequent tyrosine phosphorylation of adherens junction proteins the cadherin complex remained stable and associated with junctions. Our results demonstrate that the endothelial adherens junction is a downstream target of VEGFR-2 signaling and suggest that tyrosine phosphorylation of its components may be involved in the the loosening of cell-cell contacts in established vessels to modulate transendothelial permeability and to allow sprouting and cell migration during angiogenesis.