The Caveolin genes: from cell biology to medicine

Ann Med. 2004;36(8):584-95. doi: 10.1080/07853890410018899.


Caveolae are vesicular organelles (50-100-nm in diameter) that are particularly abundant in cells of the cardiovascular system, including endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, macrophages, cardiac myocytes and fibroblasts. In these cell types, caveolae function both in protein trafficking and signal transduction, as well as in cholesterol homeostasis. Caveolins are the structural proteins that are both necessary and sufficient for the formation of caveolae membrane domains. Caveolins 1 and 2 are co-expressed in most cell types, while the expression of caveolin-3 is muscle-specific. Thus, endothelial cells and fibroblasts are rich in caveolins 1 and 2, while cardiac myocytes and skeletal muscle fibers express caveolin-3. In contrast, smooth muscle cells express all three caveolins (Cav-1, -2, and -3). Mechanistically, caveolins interact with a variety of downstream signaling molecules, including Src-family tyrosine kinases, p42/44 mitogen activated protein (MAP) kinase, and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), and hold these signal transducers in the inactive conformation until activation by an appropriate stimulus. In many ways, caveolins serve both to compartmentalize and regulate signaling. Recent studies using caveolin-deficient mouse models dramatically show that caveolae and caveolins play a prominent role in various human patho-biological conditions, especially those related to the cardiovascular system. These disease phenotypes include: atherosclerosis, cardiac hypertrophy, cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension, and neointimal hyperplasia (smooth muscle cell proliferation). In addition, caveolins play a significant role in other disease phenotypes, such as cancer, diabetes, bladder dysfunction, and muscular dystrophy, as we discuss in this review. Thus, caveolin-deficient mice will serve as important new animal models to dissect the intricate role of caveolae and caveolins in the pathogenesis of human diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteriosclerosis / genetics
  • Cardiomyopathies / genetics
  • Caveolae / physiology*
  • Caveolin 1
  • Caveolins / genetics*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Endocytosis / genetics
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Female Urogenital Diseases / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / genetics
  • Male Urogenital Diseases
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / physiology
  • Muscle, Smooth / cytology
  • Muscular Dystrophies / genetics
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • src-Family Kinases / physiology


  • CAV1 protein, human
  • Cav1 protein, mouse
  • Caveolin 1
  • Caveolins
  • src-Family Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases