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Abstract

Angiogenesis, the generation of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels, is an integral component of wound healing, responses to inflammation and other physiologic processes. It is also an essential part of tumor growth; in the absence of new vessel formation, tumors cannot expand beyond a small volume. Although much is known about angiogenesis and its regulation, there is no overall theory that describes or explains this process. It is here suggested that the intracrine hypothesis, which ascribes to certain extracellular signaling peptides (whether hormones, growth factors, DNA-binding proteins or enzymes) a role in both intracellular biology and extracellular signaling, can contribute to a more general understanding of angiogenesis. Intracrine factors participate in angiogenesis in the following ways: (1) they can act within the cells that synthesized them (type I intracrine action), (2) they can be secreted and then taken up by their cell of synthesis to act intracellularly (type II intracrine action ), or (3) they can be secreted and internalized by a distant target cell (type III intracrine action). The parallels between the intracrine growth factor mechanisms cancer cells employ in stimulating their own growth and the mechanisms operative in endothelial cell proliferation during angiogenesis (“intracrine reciprocity”) are discussed. Collectively, these explorations lead to testable hypotheses regarding the regulation of normal and pathological angiogenesis, and point to similarities between tumor-induced angiogenesis and tissue differentiation. BioEssays 28: 943–953, 2006. © 2006 Wiley periodicals, Inc.