Objective: The goal of these studies was to define the anatomic pathways by which circulating macromolecules extravasate from the hyperpermeable microvessels that supply tumors and from normal venules that have been rendered hyperpermeable by vasoactive mediators.
Methods: Extravasation pathways of circulating macromolecular tracers were followed by several morphological techniques: light and fluorescence microscopy, transmission electron microscopy of routine as well as ultrathin and serial sections, computer-assisted three-dimensional reconstructions, and morphometry.
Results and discussion: Macromolecules extravasated across tumor microvessels or across normal venules rendered hyperpermeable by VPF/VEGF, histamine, or serotonin by three primary pathways: 1) Vesiculo-vacuolar organelles (VVOs), clusters of cytoplasmic vesicles and vacuoles that span endothelial cytoplasm from lumen to ablumen; 2) trans-endothelial cell (EC), pores, and 3) fenestrae. We also present data concerning the structure and function of VVOs as well as evidence that VVOs form as the result of linking together and fusion of caveolae-sized unit vesicles. Under suitable conditions VVOs also afforded a pathway for macromolecular transport in the reverse direction, i.e., from vascular ablumen to lumen. Finally, in addition to opening VVOs to the passage of macromolecules, mediators such as VPF/VEGF may also induce structural rearrangements of VVOs, transforming them into trans-EC pores or fenestrae.