Comparison of three in vitro human 'angiogenesis' assays with capillaries formed in vivo

Angiogenesis. 2001;4(2):113-21. doi: 10.1023/a:1012218401036.


Angiogenesis assays are an important tool for studying both the mechanisms of angiogenesis and the potential development of therapeutic strategies to modulate neovascularisation. In vivo angiogenesis assays are considered to be the most informative of these but are often expensive, time-consuming and require specialist training to perform. In vitro assays tend to be more rapid, less expensive and easier to interpret. In vitro angiogenesis assays operate on the principle that endothelial cells form tubule-like structures when cultured on a supportive matrix. Assays involving a matrix derived from murine tumours, Matrigel (or a growth factor reduced form of this), are now the most common in vitro tubule formation assays. However, another tubule formation assay has recently been developed in which endothelial cells are co-cultured with fibroblasts. Here, we have used quantitative image analysis to compare the morphological features of tubules formed in the Matrigel assay and this new 'Co-culture' assay, with those of capillaries formed in a microvascular bed in vivo. Tubules formed in standard and growth factor reduced Matrigel assays were short and relatively homogeneous, whereas those formed in the Co-culture assay were significantly more heterogeneous, consisting of both short and long interconnecting tubules that more closely resembled capillaries than Matrigel tubules. Moreover, cells on Matrigel, and to a lesser extent growth factor reduced (GFR) Matrigel, often clumped into large cell aggregates, a feature rarely seen in the Co-culture assay. In addition, we demonstrate that Matrigel stimulates tubule formation by various non-endothelial cell types, suggesting that tubule formation by endothelial cells may not represent true differentiation of this cell type. In summary, the morphology of tubules in the Co-culture assay appears more representative of capillary formation in vivo, than the endothelial cell changes that occur in either form of Matrigel assay.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Capillaries / growth & development*
  • Capillaries / physiology
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic*