Mechanisms controlling human endothelial lumen formation and tube assembly in three-dimensional extracellular matrices

Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2007 Dec;81(4):270-85. doi: 10.1002/bdrc.20107.


Recent data have revealed new mechanisms that underlie endothelial cell (EC) lumen formation during vascular morphogenic events in development, wound repair, and other disease states. It is apparent that EC interactions with extracellular matrices (ECMs) establish signaling cascades downstream of integrin ligation leading to activation of the Rho GTPases, Cdc42 and Rac1, which are required for lumen formation. In large part, this process is driven by intracellular vacuole formation and coalescence, which rapidly leads to the creation of fluid-filled matrix-free spaces that are then interconnected via EC-EC interactions to create multicellular tube structures. EC vacuoles markedly accumulate in a polarized fashion directly adjacent to the centrosome in a region that strongly accumulates Cdc42 protein as indicated by green fluorescent protein (GFP)-Cdc42 during the lumen formation process. Downstream of Cdc42-mediated signaling, key molecules that have been identified to be required for EC lumen formation include Pak2, Pak4, Par3, Par6, and the protein kinase C (PKC) isoforms zeta and epsilon. Together, these molecules coordinately regulate the critical EC lumen formation process in three-dimensional (3D) collagen matrices. These events also require cell surface proteolysis mediated through membrane type 1 matrix metalloproteinase (MT1-MMP), which is necessary to create vascular guidance tunnels within the 3D matrix environment. These tunnels represent physical spaces within the ECM that are necessary to regulate vascular morphogenic events, including the establishment of interconnected vascular tube networks as well as the recruitment of pericytes to initiate vascular tube maturation (via basement membrane matrix assembly) and stabilization. Current research continues to analyze how specific molecules integrate signaling information in concert to catalyze EC lumen formation, pericyte recruitment, and stabilization processes to control vascular morphogenesis in 3D extracellular matrices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Polarity
  • Collagen / physiology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / growth & development*
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Integrins / physiology
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 14 / physiology
  • Models, Cardiovascular
  • Morphogenesis
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vacuoles / physiology
  • cdc42 GTP-Binding Protein / antagonists & inhibitors
  • cdc42 GTP-Binding Protein / genetics
  • cdc42 GTP-Binding Protein / physiology
  • p21-Activated Kinases / physiology
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / antagonists & inhibitors
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / genetics
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / physiology


  • Integrins
  • RAC1 protein, human
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Collagen
  • PAK4 protein, human
  • PAK2 protein, human
  • p21-Activated Kinases
  • MMP14 protein, human
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 14
  • cdc42 GTP-Binding Protein
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein