The coronary vascular system is critical for myocardial growth and cardiomyocyte survival. However, the molecular mechanism regulating coronary angiogenesis remains elusive. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) regulates angiogenesis by binding to the specific receptors Flk1 and Flt1, which results in different functions. Despite the importance of Flk1 and Flt1, their expression in the coronary vasculature remains largely unknown due to the lack of appropriate antibodies for immunostaining. Here, we analyzed multiple reporter mice including Flk1-GFP BAC transgenic (Tg), Flk1-LacZ knock-in, Flt1-DsRed BAC Tg, and Flk1-GFP/Flt1-DsRed double Tg animals to determine expression patterns in mouse hearts during cardiac growth and after myocardial infarction (MI). We found that Flk1 was expressed in endothelial cells (ECs) with a pattern of epicardial-to-endocardial transmural gradients in the neonatal mouse ventricle, which was downregulated in adult coronary vessels with development. In contrast, Flt1 was homogeneously expressed in the ECs of neonatal mouse hearts and expression was maintained until adulthood. After MI, expression of both Flk1 and Flt1 was induced in the regenerating coronary vessels at day 7. Intriguingly, Flk1 expression was downregulated thereafter, whereas Flt1 expression was maintained in the newly formed coronary vessels until 30 days post-MI, recapitulating their expression kinetics during development. This is the first report demonstrating the spatiotemporal expression patterns of Flk1 and Flt1 in the coronary vascular system during development and after MI; thus, this study suggests that these factors have distinct and important functions in coronary angiogenesis.
Keywords: Coronary vascular system; Endothelial cell; Flk1; Flt1; Myocardial infarction; VEGF.
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