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Thromb Haemost. 2003 Aug;90(2):167-84.

Lymphangiogenic growth factors, receptors and therapies.

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Molecular/Cancer Biology Laboratory and Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Haartman Institute and Helsinki University Central Hospital, Biomedicum Helsinki, University of Helsinki, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.


The lymphatic vasculature is essential for the maintenance of normal fluid balance and for the immune responses, but it is also involved in a variety of diseases. Hypoplasia or dysfunction of the lymphatic vessels can lead to lymphedema, whereas hyperplasia or abnormal growth of these vessels are associated with lymphangiomas and lymphangiosarcomas. Lymphatic vessels are also involved in lymph node and systemic metastasis of cancer cells. Recent novel findings on the molecular mechanisms involved in lymphatic vessel development and regulation allow the modulation of the lymphangiogenic process and specific targeting of the lymphatic endothelium. Recent results show that the homeodomain transcription factor Prox-1 is an important lymphatic endothelial cell (LEC) fate-determining factor which can induce LEC-specific gene transcription even in blood vascular endothelial cells (BECs). This suggests that the distinct phenotypes of cells in the adult vascular endothelium are plastic and sensitive to transcriptional reprogramming, which might be useful for future therapeutic applications involving endothelial cells. Vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) and VEGF-D are peptide growth factors capable of inducing the growth of new lymphatic vessels in vivo in a process called lymphangiogenesis. They belong to the larger family which also includes VEGF, placenta growth factor (PlGF) and VEGF-B, VEGF-C and VEGF-D are ligands for the endothelial cell specific tyrosine kinase receptors VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3. In adult human as well as mouse tissues VEGFR-3 is expressed predominantly in lymphatic endothelial cells which line the inner surface of lymphatic vessels. While VEGFR-2 is thought to be the main mediator of angiogenesis, VEGFR-3 signaling is crucial for the development of the lymphatic vessels. Heterozygous inactivation of the VEGFR-3 tyrosine kinase leads to primary lymphedema due to defective lymphatic drainage in the limbs. Other factors that seem to be involved in lymphangiogenesis include the Tie/angiopoietin system, neuropilin-2 and integrin alpha 9. VEGF-C induces lymphatic vessel growth, but high levels of VEGF-C also resulted in blood vessel leakiness and growth. The VEGFR-3-specific mutant form of VEGF-C called VEGF-C156S lacks blood vascular side effects but is sufficient for therapeutic lymphangiogenesis in a mouse model of lymphedema. As VEGF-C156S is a specific lymphatic endothelial growth factor in the skin, it provides an attractive molecule for pro-lymphangiogenic therapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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