Activated hepatic stellate cells produce vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF has been shown to act on mesenchymal cells as well. If hepatic stellate cells can express FLT tyrosine receptor family, flt-1 and KDR/flk-1, their function might be regulated by VEGF in an autocrine manner. This hypothesis was tested using hepatic stellate cells isolated from normal rats. Northern blot analysis and immunocytochemical study revealed that hepatic stellate cells cultured for 3 days on plastic dishes expressed both flt-1 and KDR/flk-1. When the culture was prolonged to 10 days, the flt-1 mRNA expression was increased, whereas both KDR/flk-1 mRNA and protein expressions diminished. DNA and collagen syntheses were minimal in the cells cultured for 3 days, but marked in those cultured for 10 days. Addition of recombinant human VEGF to the culture medium did not change both syntheses but attenuated an increase of smooth muscle alpha-actin expression in the cells during culture on plastic dishes and also contraction of collagen gels on which the cells were cultured. We conclude that VEGF may inhibit contraction of hepatic stellate cells appearing during activation by culture, probably through attenuation of smooth muscle alpha-actin expression via upregulated VEGF receptor, flt-1.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.