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Keywords:

  • Prox1;
  • lymphatic vasculature;
  • cell fate;
  • endothelial cell;
  • LYVE-1

Abstract

Early during development, one of the first indications that lymphangiogenesis has begun is the polarized expression of the homeobox gene Prox1 in a subpopulation of venous endothelial cells. It has been shown previously that Prox1 expression in the cardinal vein promotes and maintains the budding of endothelial cells that will form the lymphatic vascular system. Prox1-deficient mice are devoid of lymphatic vasculature, and in these animals endothelial cells fail to acquire the lymphatic phenotype; instead, they remain as blood vascular endothelium. To investigate whether Prox1 is sufficient to induce a lymphatic fate in blood vascular endothelium, Prox1 cDNA was ectopically expressed by adenoviral gene transfer in primary human blood vascular endothelial cells and by transient plasmid cDNA transfection in immortalized microvascular endothelial cells. Transcriptional profiling combined with quantitative real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and Western blotting analyses revealed that Prox1 expression up-regulated the lymphatic endothelial cell markers podoplanin and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-3. Conversely, genes such as laminin, vascular endothelial growth factor-C, neuropilin-1, and intercellular adhesion molecule-1, whose expression has been associated with the blood vascular endothelial cell phenotype, were down-regulated. These results were confirmed by the use of specific antibodies against some of these markers in sections of embryonic and adult tissues. These findings validate our previous proposal that Prox1 is a key player in the molecular pathway leading to the formation of lymphatic vasculature and identify Prox1 as a master switch in the program specifying lymphatic endothelial cell fate. That a single gene product was sufficient to re-program the blood vascular endothelium toward a lymphatic phenotype corroborates the close relationship between these two vascular systems and also suggests that during evolution, the lymphatic vasculature originated from the blood vasculature by the additional expression of only a few gene products such as Prox1. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.