Exercise-induced capillary growth in human skeletal muscle and the dynamics of VEGF

Microcirculation. 2014 May;21(4):301-14. doi: 10.1111/micc.12117.


In skeletal muscle, growth of capillaries is an important adaptation to exercise training that secures adequate diffusion capacity for oxygen and nutrients even at high-intensity exercise when increases in muscle blood flow are profound. Mechanical forces present during muscle activity, such as shear stress and passive stretch, lead to cellular signaling, enhanced expression of angiogenic factors, and initiation of capillary growth. The most central angiogenic factor in skeletal muscle capillary growth is VEGF. During muscle contraction, VEGF increases in the muscle interstitium, acts on VEGF receptors on the capillary endothelium, and thereby stimulates angiogenic processes. A primary source of muscle interstitial VEGF during exercise is the skeletal muscle fibers which contain large stores of VEGF within vesicles. We propose that, during muscle activity, these VEGF-containing vesicles are redistributed toward the sarcolemma where the contents are secreted into the extracellular fluid. VEGF mRNA expression is increased primarily after exercise, which allows for a more rapid replenishment of VEGF stores lost through secretion during exercise. Future studies should focus on elucidating mechanisms and regulation of VEGF secretion.

Keywords: angiogenesis; capillary; endothelial; exercise training; interstitial; physical activity; skeletal muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capillaries / cytology
  • Capillaries / growth & development*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic / physiology*
  • Sarcolemma / metabolism*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism*


  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A