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Physiol Rev. 2002 Jul;82(3):673-700.

Vascular growth factors and lymphangiogenesis.

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  • 1Molecular/Cancer Biology Laboratory and Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and Helsinki University Central Hospital, Biomedicum Helsinki, University of Helsinki, Finland.


Blood and lymphatic vessels develop in a parallel, but independent manner, and together form the circulatory system allowing the passage of fluid and delivering molecules within the body. Although the lymphatic vessels were discovered already 300 years ago, at the same time as the blood circulation was described, the lymphatic system has remained relatively neglected until recently. This is in part due to the difficulties in recognizing these vessels in tissues because of a lack of specific markers. Over the past few years, several molecules expressed specifically in the lymphatic endothelial cells have been characterized, and knowledge about the lymphatic system has started to accumulate again. The vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family of growth factors and receptors is involved in the development and growth of the vascular endothelial system. Two of its family members, VEGF-C and VEGF-D, regulate the lymphatic endothelial cells via their receptor VEGFR-3. With the aid of these molecules, lymphatic endothelial cells can be isolated and cultured, allowing detailed studies of the molecular properties of these cells. Also the role of the lymphatic endothelium in immune responses and certain pathological conditions can be studied in more detail, as the blood and lymphatic vessels seem to be involved in many diseases in a coordinated manner. Discoveries made so far will be helpful in the diagnosis of certain vascular tumors, in the design of specific treatments for lymphedema, and in the prevention of metastatic tumor spread via the lymphatic system.

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