Infoscience

Thesis

In vitro lymphatic endothelial morphogenesis: molecular vs. biophysical regulation

Cell organization into functional multicellular three-dimensional structures is a long-standing challenge. In particular, engineering of vascularized tissues requires both blood and lymphatic neovascular network formation in a simultaneous and coordinated fashion. While extensive in vitro investigations in blood and lymphangiogenesis have identified a vast array of cellular phenomena and key cellular and extracellular bioactive substances, the dynamic natural cellular environment and its regulatory role in governing cellular response and interactions remain largely unclear. Furthermore, the wealth of existing knowledge describing the molecular regulation of vessel morphogenesis is heavily biased towards the angiogenic growth of blood capillaries, despite the importance of the lymphatic system. This thesis first addresses the differential gene regulation of isolated microvascular lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) in response to the lymphatic growth factor VEGF-C and to fluid shear stress using gene arrays and QRT-PCR. First, characteristic of a response to a growth factor stimulus, the largest numbers of differentially expressed genes in response to VEGF-C stimulation were transcription factors and cell cycle related. A number of genes known to be important in angiogenesis, tumorigenesis and tumor invasion, and transport of proteins, solutes, and lipids were also affected. Interestingly, a number of genes related to lipid metabolism as well as neurogenesis were also responsive to VEGF-C stimulation. Further analysis of these genes may not only provide insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying lymphangiogenesis and associated pathogenesis, but may also identify other important roles of VEGF-C. The ability of lymphatic endothelium to sense and actively regulate drainage function is poorly understood, and shear stress is likely a key indicator of lymphatic drainage function. Thus, LECs were exposed to 0, 2 and 20 dyn/cm2 shear stress as representative of chronic lymphedema, normal, and acute inflammatory conditions, respectively. Important adaptive responses to both low and high shear stress conditions that were correlated to lymphatic function, including changes in gene expression patterns related to water and solute transport, cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion, inflammatory cytokines and cell cycle were found. These changes were consistent with increased transport function, both active and passive, in high shear conditions and indicate that during lymphedema, lymphatic endothelium shuts down transport functions. These data demonstrate a functional-adaptive response of lymphatic endothelium to flow conditions, thus indicating that the lymphatic endothelium plays an active role in regulating their drainage function. It has been previously shown in our lab that in vitro blood and lymphatic morphogenesis are differentially enhanced by interstitial flow. Using a three-dimensional tissue culture model, the molecular mechanisms orchestrating endothelial cell morphogenesis, specifically gene regulation of the lymphatic microvascular system was investigated, focusing on genes implicated in both cellular morphogenesis and lymphatic development. Finally, concurrent angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis were studied in vitro to examine the influences and crosstalk between blood and lymphatic microvascular development. The data suggest that both blood endothelial cell (BEC) and LEC in vitro capillary morphogenesis are enhanced by the presence of BEC-secreted factors, and these effects are, in part, mediated through proliferative and migratory responses of which the latter was induced by VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3 signaling for BECs and LECs, respectively. When maintained in mixed three-dimensional cultures, both homotypic and heterotypic interactions between LECs and BECs were observed. Furthermore, capillary morphogenesis and interactions were enhanced and distinct when under the additional influence of interstitial flow. In conclusion, the novelties of the work presented in this dissertation include studies of 1) overall LEC gene response to its primary growth factor VEGF-C and biophysical factor, fluid flow and 2) the genetic regulation underlying the morphogenetic processes of LECs under interstitial flow in vitro, by using unique approaches which combine bioengineering principles to address fundamental biological questions and thereby contribute to this novel niche which has so far been neglected. Furthermore, the importance of biophysical processes along with crucial biochemical signal regulation is demonstrated in the concurrent induction of angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis. Such are the requisites for the understanding of microvascular development and the determination of useful design principles for the in vitro vascularization of engineered tissues.

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