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Angiogenesis. 2012 Mar;15(1):151-63. doi: 10.1007/s10456-011-9251-z. Epub 2012 Jan 17.

CD34 marks angiogenic tip cells in human vascular endothelial cell cultures.

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Ocular Angiogenesis Group, Department of Ophthalmology and Department of Cell Biology and Histology, University of Amsterdam, Academic Medical Center, PO Box 22660, 1100 DD Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The functional shift of quiescent endothelial cells into tip cells that migrate and stalk cells that proliferate is a key event during sprouting angiogenesis. We previously showed that the sialomucin CD34 is expressed in a small subset of cultured endothelial cells and that these cells extend filopodia: a hallmark of tip cells in vivo. In the present study, we characterized endothelial cells expressing CD34 in endothelial monolayers in vitro. We found that CD34-positive human umbilical vein endothelial cells show low proliferation activity and increased mRNA expression of all known tip cell markers, as compared to CD34-negative cells. Genome-wide mRNA profiling analysis of CD34-positive endothelial cells demonstrated enrichment for biological functions related to angiogenesis and migration, whereas CD34-negative cells were enriched for functions related to proliferation. In addition, we found an increase or decrease of CD34-positive cells in vitro upon exposure to stimuli that enhance or limit the number of tip cells in vivo, respectively. Our findings suggest cells with virtually all known properties of tip cells are present in vascular endothelial cell cultures and that they can be isolated based on expression of CD34. This novel strategy may open alternative avenues for future studies of molecular processes and functions in tip cells in angiogenesis.

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