The cardiovascular system, consisting of the heart, blood vessels and hematopoietic cells, is the first organ system to develop in vertebrates and is essential for providing oxygen and nutrients to the embryo and adult organs. Work done predominantly using the mouse and zebrafish as model systems has demonstrated that Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF, also known as VEGFA) and its receptors KDR (FLK1/VEGFR2), FLT1 (VEGFR1), NRP1 and NRP2 play essential roles in many different aspects of cardiovascular development, including endothelial cell differentiation, migration and survival as well as heart formation and hematopoiesis. This review will summarize the approaches taken and conclusions reached in dissecting the role of VEGF signalling in vivo during the development of the early cardiovasculature and other organ systems. The VEGF-mediated assembly of a functional vasculature is also a prerequisite for the proper formation of other organs and for tissue homeostasis, because blood vessels deliver oxygen and nutrients and vascular endothelium provides inductive signals to other tissues. Particular emphasis will therefore be placed in this review on the cellular interactions between vascular endothelium and developing organ systems, in addition to a discussion of the role of VEGF in modulating the behavior of nonendothelial cell populations.
Keywords: Cre-loxP system; VEGF; VEGF receptors; angiogenesis; cardiovascular; conditional mutagenesis; mouse; organogenesis.