Vascular endothelial growth factor, VEGF, stimulates angiogenesis by directly acting on endothelial cells. The effects of VEGF are mediated by two tyrosine kinase receptors, VEGFR-1 (Flt-1) and VEGFR-2 (Flk-1/KDR) that are highly related to receptors of the platelet derived growth factor (PDGF) receptor family. We are interested in early signalling events downstream from VEGF receptors that affect blood vessel homeostasis. Endothelial cells form multiple types of cell-cell junctions that are required for cellular organization into complex networks. These junctions also regulate communication among adjacent cells. Stimulation by various growth factors such as epidermal growth factor (EGF) or PDGF has been shown to disrupt cell-cell junctions, consequently affecting cell-to-cell communication. We investigated gap junctional communication (GJC) by monitoring the transfer of a low molecular mass fluorescent tracer molecule between adjacent cells using immunofluorescence microscopy. VEGF maximally blocked GJC 15 minutes after growth factor administration. The cells resumed communication via gap junctions within 1–2 hours after treatment. This early effect of VEGF on communication correlated with changes in the phosphorylation state of one of the proteins involved in gap junction formation, connexin 43 (Cx43). The signalling mechanisms involved in this phenomenon depend on activation of VEGFR-2, impinge on a tyrosine kinase of the Src family and activate the Erk family of MAP kinases. The function of VEGF-mediated disruption of GJC might be to restrict an increase in endothelium permeability to the environment affected by local injury to blood vessels.
- © 2001 by Company of Biologists