A novel in vitro assay for human angiogenesis

Lab Invest. 1996 Oct;75(4):539-55.


Angiogenesis, the development of new blood vessels, is an important process in tissue development and wound healing but becomes pathologic when associated with solid tumor growth, proliferative retinopathies, and rheumatoid arthritis. To date, there has not been a physiologically relevant in vitro model for human angiogenesis that can be used to screen for enhancers and inhibitors of human angiogenesis and allow further investigation of this process. Initially, culture conditions were established for the induction of human angiogenesis in vitro using fragments of human placental blood vessel. Once the assay was validated, it was examined for its ability to detect known inhibitors and enhancers of angiogenesis. The role of endogenous acidic fibroblast growth factor (aFGF), basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the angiogenic response was also assessed by performing RT-PCR on both the parent vessel and microvessel outgrowths. In addition, neutralizing antibodies against the three growth factors were used to quantify the relative importance of each growth factor in the angiogenic response. A fragment of human placental blood vessel was embedded in a fibrin gel in microculture plates and was found to give rise to a complex network of microvessels during a period of 7 to 21 days in culture. The response did not require the addition of exogenous growth factors, and thus provides a convenient system for testing substances for their ability to stimulate or inhibit a human in vitro angiogenic response. The ability of the well known angiogenesis antagonist, hydrocortisone, in the presence and absence of heparin, and suramin to significantly inhibit the angiogenic response indicated that the model could be used as an efficient in vitro assay for screening inhibitors of human angiogenesis. The presence of mRNA for aFGF, bFGF, and three isoforms of VEGF, as well as their receptors, FGFR1, FGFR2, Flt-1, and KDR, in vessel outgrowths and the parent vessel, as identified by RT-PCR, strongly implicated aFGF, bFGF, and VEGF as having an important role in this neovascularization response. This was further confirmed by the ability of neutralizing antibodies to aFGF, bFGF, and VEGF to inhibit the angiogenic response to varying extent. Furthermore, the response could be enhanced by the addition of these growth factors in serum-starved cultures. Finally, a stimulatory effect was observed when matrigel was incorporated into the fibrin gel, which indicates that components of the extracellular matrix also play an important role in governing the strength of the angiogenic response. A physiologic angiogenic response relevant to wound healing can be generated by culturing fragments of human placental blood vessels in fibrin gels. The growth factors aFGF, bFGF, and VEGF were shown to play an important role in stimulating this spontaneous angiogenic response. This assay, which can be performed in microcultures, was also shown to be an excellent method for screening for potential inhibitors and enhancers of human angiogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies
  • Endothelial Growth Factors / genetics
  • Endothelial Growth Factors / physiology
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 1 / genetics
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 1 / physiology
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 / genetics
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 / physiology
  • Heparin / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology
  • Lymphokines / genetics
  • Lymphokines / physiology
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic* / drug effects
  • Neutralization Tests
  • Physiology / methods
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Growth Factor / genetics
  • Suramin / pharmacology
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Wound Healing / physiology


  • Antibodies
  • Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Lymphokines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Growth Factor
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 1
  • Suramin
  • Heparin
  • Hydrocortisone