The vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family of secreted proteins and their receptors are major regulators of blood vessel development (hemangiogenesis) and lymphatic vessel development (lymphangiogenesis). VEGF acts through a complex system of receptor tyrosine kinases, which can be membrane bound or soluble. New data concerning the receptor system are still emerging, thus contributing to the complexity of the system. Very recently a soluble form of VEGFR-2, termed sVEGFR-2, which is a result of alternative splicing, has been discovered. Earlier, it has been shown that a secreted/soluble form of VEGFR-1, termed sVEGFR-1, is produced by alternative splicing and exerts an antihemangiogenic effect by binding VEGF-A. The newly discovered spliced variant of sVEGFR-2 binds the lymphangiogenic growth factor VEGF-C and thus inhibits VEGF-C-induced activation of VEGFR-3, consequently inhibiting lymphatic endothelial cell proliferation. Its inactivation in murine embryos permits hyperplasia of dermal lymphatics and invasion of lymphatics into the cornea. Tumor lymphangiogenesis seems to influence the metastatic behavior of malignant cells. A correlation has been found between the downregulation of sVEGFR-2 and the malignant progression of neuroblastoma, which is characterized by lymphogenic metastases in progressed stages. Data show that lymphangiogenesis is regulated by both activators and inhibitors, and its balance is crucial in health and disease.
© 2010 New York Academy of Sciences.