eNOS controls angiogenic sprouting and retinal neovascularization through the regulation of endothelial cell polarity

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2021 Dec 31;79(1):37. doi: 10.1007/s00018-021-04042-y.


The roles of nitric oxide (NO) and endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) in the regulation of angiogenesis are well documented. However, the involvement of eNOS in the sprouting of endothelial tip-cells at the vascular front during sprouting angiogenesis remains poorly defined. In this study, we show that downregulation of eNOS markedly inhibits VEGF-stimulated migration of endothelial cells but increases their polarization, as evidenced by the reorientation of the Golgi in migrating monolayers and by the fewer filopodia on tip cells at ends of sprouts in endothelial cell spheroids. The effect of eNOS inhibition on EC polarization was prevented in Par3-depleted cells. Importantly, downregulation of eNOS increased the expression of polarity genes, such as PARD3B, PARD6A, PARD6B, PKCΖ, TJP3, and CRB1 in endothelial cells. In retinas of eNOS knockout mice, vascular development is retarded with decreased vessel density and vascular branching. Furthermore, tip cells at the extremities of the vascular front have a marked reduction in the number of filopodia per cell and are more oriented. In a model of oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR), eNOS deficient mice are protected during the initial vaso-obliterative phase, have reduced pathological neovascularization, and retinal endothelial tip cells have fewer filopodia. Single-cell RNA sequencing of endothelial cells from OIR retinas revealed enrichment of genes related to cell polarity in the endothelial tip-cell subtype of eNOS deficient mice. These results indicate that inhibition of eNOS alters the polarity program of endothelial cells, which increases cell polarization, regulates sprouting angiogenesis and normalizes pathological neovascularization during retinopathy.

Keywords: Angiogenesis; Nitric oxide; Polarity; Retina; Retinopathies; Tip-cells; VEGF.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Polarity
  • Endothelial Cells
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic*
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / physiology*
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retina / pathology
  • Retinal Neovascularization* / metabolism
  • Retinal Neovascularization* / pathology
  • Retinal Vessels* / cytology
  • Retinal Vessels* / pathology


  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Nos3 protein, mouse