Here, we describe a new function for plasmin and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which is to regulate the regression of capillary tubes in three-dimensional extracellular matrix environments. Using a well-described capillary morphogenesis system in three-dimensional collagen matrices, a new model of capillary regression has been established by adding plasminogen to the culture medium. Plasminogen is converted to plasmin by endothelial cell plasminogen activators which then induces matrix metalloproteinase-dependent collagen gel contraction and capillary regression. Plasminogen addition results in activation of MMP-1 and MMP-9, which then results in collagen proteolysis followed by capillary regression. The endothelial cells undergo apoptosis following gel contraction as detected by flow cytometric analysis as well as by detectable caspase-3 cleavage and caspase-dependent cleavage of the actin cytoskeletal regulatory protein, gelsolin. In addition, directly correlating with the contraction response, tyrosine phosphorylation of p130cas, an adapter protein in the focal adhesion complex, is observed followed by disappearance of the protein. Proteinase inhibitors that block MMPs (TIMP-1 or TIMP-2), plasminogen activators (PAI-1) or plasmin (aprotinin) completely block the gel contraction and regression process. In addition, chemical inhibitors of MMPs that block capillary regression also block MMP-1 and MMP-9 activation suggesting that a key element in this regression response is the molecular control of MMP activation by endothelial cells. Blocking antibodies directed to MMP-1 or MMP-9 interfere with capillary regression while blocking antibodies directed to PAI-1 accelerate capillary regression suggesting that endogenous synthesis of PAI-1 negatively regulates this process. These data present a novel system to study a new mechanism that may regulate regression of capillary tubes, namely, plasmin and MMP-mediated degradation of extracellular matrix.
- © 2001 by Company of Biologists