Objective: In systemic sclerosis (SSc) microvascular endothelial cells (MVECs), angiogenesis is blocked by matrix metalloproteinase 12-dependent cleavage of domain 1 of the urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR). Since integrins are associated with the invasive activity of uPAR in angiogenesis, this study was undertaken to show whether full-size and truncated uPAR are differentially associated with integrins and with motor components of the cytoskeleton.
Methods: SSc and normal MVECs were isolated from human skin biopsy specimens and studied by confocal laser scanning microscopy and immunoprecipitation to assess the mechanisms of association of truncated and full-size uPAR with integrins and the actin cytoskeleton. The integrin composition of the MVECs was studied by reverse transcription-polymerasechain reaction. Cell migration and capillary morphogenesis were studied on fibrinogen substrates. Involvement of Rac and Cdc42 was evaluated by Western blotting.
Results: Only full-size uPAR showed a connection with the actin cytoskeleton in ECs. This connection was mediated by the uPAR-associated alphaMu- and alphaX-subunits of beta2 integrin, and was absent from SSc MVECs. The cleaved uPAR was not associated with beta2 integrins or with actin. beta3 integrins were associated with both the full-size and cleaved uPAR at focal contacts. The uncoupling of uPAR from beta2 integrins in SSc MVECs impaired the activation of Rac and Cdc42 (thus inhibiting their mediation of uPAR-dependent cytoskeletal rearrangements and cell motility) and blocked the integrin-engagement-delivered signals to the actin cytoskeleton. Invasion and capillary morphogenesis on fibrinogen-coated substrates indicated that ligation of uPAR by uPA empowers the beta2/beta3 integrin-dependent invasion of fibrinogen, and that this system is impaired in SSc MVECs.
Conclusion: The reduced angiogenic properties of SSc MVECs can be explained by the effects of uPAR truncation and the subsequent loss of the beta2 integrin-mediated connection of uPAR with the actin cytoskeleton in these ECs.