Abstract: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is an important regulator of vasculogenesis and vascular permeability. Hepatic sinusoidal endothelial cells (SECs) possess sieve-like pores that form an anastomosing labyrinth structure by the deeply invaginated plasma membrane. Caveolin is the principal structural protein in caveolae. In this study, we examined the role of VEGF on the fenestration and permeability of SECs and the relation with caveolin-1. SECs isolated from rat livers by collagenase infusion method were cultured for 24 h with (10 or 100 ng/ml) or without VEGF. The cells were then examined by transmission and scanning electron microscopy (EM). The expression of caveolin was investigated by confocal immunofluorescence, immunogold EM, and Western blot. Endocytosis and intracellular traffic was studied using horseradish peroxidase (HRP) reaction as a marker of fluid phase transport in SECs.
Both transmission and scanning EM showed an increased number of sinusoidal endothelial fenestrae (SEF) in SECs cultured with VEGF. By confocal immunofluorescence, SECs cultured with VEGF displayed prominent caveolin-1-positive aggregates in the cytoplasm, especially surrounding the nucleus region. Immunogold EM depicted increased caveolin-1 reactivity on vesicles and vacuoles of VEGF-treated SECs compared with VEGF-nontreated cells. However, there was no change in the level of caveolin-1 protein expression on Western blot. After HRP injection, an increase of electron-dense tracer filled the SEF in cells treated with VEGF. Our results suggested that VEGF induced fenestration in SECs, accompanied by an increased number of caveolae-like vesicles. Increased caveolin-1 might be associated with vesicle formation but not with fenestration. Increased fenestration may augment hepatic sinusoidal permeability and trans-endothelial transport.