Vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 3 (VEGFR-3, Flt-4), the receptor for vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGFs) C and D, is expressed on lymphatic endothelium and may play a role in lymphangiogenesis. In embryonic life, VEGFR-3 is essential for blood vessel development. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether VEGFR-3 is also involved in blood vessel angiogenesis in the adult. This was studied in human tissues showing angiogenesis and in a model of VEGF-A-induced iris neovascularization in the monkey eye, by the use of immunohistochemistry at the light and electron microscopic level. VEGFR-3 was expressed on endothelium of proliferating blood vessels in tumours. In granulation tissue, staining was observed in the proliferative superficial zone in plump blood vessel sprouts, in the intermediate zone in blood vessels and long lymphatic sprouts, and in the deeper fibrous zone in large lymphatics, in a pattern demonstrating that lymphangiogenesis follows behind blood vessel angiogenesis in granulation tissue formation. At the ultrastructural level, VEGFR-3 was localized in the cytoplasm and on the cell membrane of endothelial cells of sprouting blood vessels and sprouting lymphatics. In monkey eyes injected with VEGF-A, blood vessel sprouts on the anterior iris surface and pre-existing blood vessels in the iris expressed VEGFR-3. In conclusion, these results support a role for VEGFR-3 and its ligands VEGF-C and/or VEGF-D in cell-to-cell signalling in adult blood vessel angiogenesis. The expression of VEGFR-3 in VEGF-A-induced iris neovascularization and in pre-existing blood vessels exposed to VEGF-A suggests that this receptor and possibly its ligands are recruited in VEGF-A-driven angiogenesis.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.