Objective: Induced angiogenesis has recently been attempted as a therapeutic modality in patients with occlusive arterial atherosclerotic disease. We investigated the possible role of endogenous opioids in the modulation of angiogenesis.
Methods: Chick chorioallantoic membrane was used as an in vivo model to study angiogenesis. Fertilized chick eggs were incubated for 3 days, explanted, and incubated for an additional 2 days. Three-millimeter methylcellulose disks were placed on the surface of the chorioallantoic membrane; each disk contained opioid growth factor ([Met(5)]-enkephalin; 5 microgram), the short-acting opioid receptor antagonist naloxone (5 microgram), opioid growth factor and naloxone together (5 microgram of each), the long-acting opioid antagonist naltrexone (5 microgram), or distilled water (control). A second series of experiments was performed with distilled water, the angiogenic inhibitor retinoic acid (1 microgram), and vascular endothelial growth factor (1 microgram) to further evaluate our model. The developing vasculature was imaged 2 days later with a digital camera and exported to a computer for image analysis. Total number of blood vessels, total vessel length, and mean vessel length were measured within a 100-mm(2) region surrounding each applied disk. Immunocytochemical analysis was performed with antibodies directed against opioid growth factor and its receptor (OGFr).
Results: Opioid growth factor had a significant inhibitory effect on angiogenesis, both the number of blood vessels and the total vessel length being decreased (by 35% and 20%, respectively) in comparison with control levels (P <.005). The simultaneous addition of naloxone and opioid growth factor had no effect on blood vessel growth, nor did naloxone alone. Chorioallantoic membranes exposed to naltrexone displayed increases of 51% and 24% in blood vessel number and length, respectively, in comparison with control specimens (P <.005). These results indicate that the opioid growth factor effects are receptor mediated and tonically active. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated the presence of both opioid growth factor and OGFr within the endothelial cells and mesenchymal cells of the developing chorioallantoic membrane vessel wall. Retinoic acid significantly reduced the number and the total length of blood vessels, whereas vascular endothelial growth factor increased both the number and the length of blood vessels in comparison with the controls (P <.0001). The magnitude of opioid growth factor's effects were comparable to those seen with retinoic acid, whereas inhibition of opioid growth factor with naltrexone induced an increase in total vessel length comparable to that for vascular endothelial growth factor.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate for the first time that endogenous opioids modulate in vivo angiogenesis. Opioid growth factor is a tonically active peptide that has a receptor-mediated action in regulating angiogenesis in developing endothelial and mesenchymal vascular cells.