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J Cell Biol. 1989 Jul;109(1):317-30.

Mechanochemical switching between growth and differentiation during fibroblast growth factor-stimulated angiogenesis in vitro: role of extracellular matrix.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.


The angiogenic factor, basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF), either stimulates endothelial cell growth or promotes capillary differentiation depending upon the microenvironment in which it acts. Analysis of various in vitro models of spontaneous angiogenesis, in combination with time-lapse cinematography, demonstrated that capillary tube formation was greatly facilitated by promoting multicellular retraction and cell elevation above the surface of the rigid culture dish or by culturing endothelial cells on malleable extracellular matrix (ECM) substrata. These observations suggested to us that mechanical (i.e., tension-dependent) interactions between endothelial cells and ECM may serve to regulate capillary development. To test this hypothesis, FGF-stimulated endothelial cells were grown in chemically defined medium on bacteriological (nonadhesive) dishes that were precoated with different densities of fibronectin. Extensive cell spreading and growth were promoted by fibronectin coating densities that were highly adhesive (greater than 500 ng/cm2), whereas cell rounding, detachment, and loss of viability were observed on dishes coated with low fibronectin concentrations (less than 100 ng/cm2). Intermediate fibronectin coating densities (100-500 ng/cm2) promoted cell extension, but they could not completely resist cell tractional forces. Partial retraction of multicellular aggregates resulted in cell shortening, cessation of growth, and formation of branching tubular networks within 24-48 h. Multicellular retraction and subsequent tube formation also could be elicited on highly adhesive dishes by overcoming the mechanical resistance of the substratum using higher cell plating numbers. Dishes coated with varying concentrations of type IV collagen or gelatin produced similar results. These results suggest that ECM components may act locally to regulate the growth and pattern-regulating actions of soluble FGF based upon their ability to resist cell-generated mechanical loads. Thus, we propose that FGF-stimulated endothelial cells may be "switched" between growth, differentiation, and involution modes during angiogenesis by altering the adhesivity or mechanical integrity of their ECM.

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