Urotensin-II (U-II) is an endogenous peptide recently characterized as a "nonclassic" pro-angiogenic cytokine. In fact, human vascular endothelial cells express the U-II receptor and exhibit a strong in vitro angiogenic response to the peptide, which was specifically triggered by the binding of U-II to its receptor and involved the activation of ERK1/2 and PI3K/Akt signaling pathways. Moreover, available studies, designed to investigate the pro-angiogenic effect quite shortly following U-II stimulation, suggested that the angiogenic action of the peptide was direct and not associated with an increased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and/or its receptors. In the present study, the expression of three pro-angiogenic factors, namely VEGF, endothelin-1, and adrenomedullin, was studied in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) for longer times of U-II stimulation. RT-PCR and Western blot indicated that in HUVEC, exposed for at least 24h to U-II, the expression of the three angiogenic molecules was significantly increased at both mRNA and protein level, opening the possibility that U-II, not only could exert a direct stimulation of an angiogenic phenotype in endothelial cells quite shortly following exposure to the peptide, but could also further enhance the process indirectly by inducing in the cells a delayed production of other pro-angiogenic factors. Interestingly, a preliminary analysis of the time course of the in vitro capillary-like pattern formation was consistent with this view, suggesting a two phase temporal dynamics of the process.
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