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Development. 2006 Jun;133(11):2201-10. Epub 2006 May 3.

VEGF activates divergent intracellular signaling components to regulate retinal progenitor cell proliferation and neuronal differentiation.

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Jules Stein Eye Institute and Department of Ophthalmology, Molecular Biology Institute, University of California, David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles, 90095, USA.


During vertebrate neurogenesis, multiple extracellular signals influence progenitor cell fate choices. The process by which uncommitted progenitor cells interpret and integrate signals is not well understood. We demonstrate here that in the avascular chicken retina, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) secreted by postmitotic neurons acts through the FLK1 receptor present on progenitor cells to influence cell proliferation and commitment. Augmenting VEGF signals increases progenitor cell proliferation and decreases retinal ganglion cell genesis. Conversely, absorbing endogenous VEGF ligand or disrupting FLK1 activity attenuates cell proliferation and enhances retinal ganglion cell production. In addition, we provide evidence that VEGF signals transmitted by the FLK1 receptor activate divergent intracellular signaling components, which regulate different responses of progenitor cells. VEGF-induced proliferation is influenced by the MEK-ERK pathway, as well as by the basic helix-loop-helix factor HES1. By contrast, VEGF-dependent ganglion cell suppression does not require MEK-ERK activation, but instead relies on VEGF-stimulated HES1 activity, which is independent of NOTCH signaling. Moreover, elevated HES1 expression promotes progenitor cell proliferation and prevents overproduction of retinal ganglion cells owing to the loss of VEGF or sonic hedgehog (SHH), another signal that suppresses ganglion cell development. Based on previous and current findings, we propose that HES1 serves as a convergent signaling node within early retinal progenitor cells to integrate various cell-extrinsic cues, including VEGF and SHH, in order to control cell proliferation and neuronal specification.

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