Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a secreted mitogen highly specific for cultured endothelial cells. In vivo VEGF induces microvascular permeability and plays a central role in both angiogenesis and vasculogenesis. VEGF is a promising target for therapeutic intervention in certain pathological conditions that are angiogenesis dependent, most notably the neovascularisation of growing tumours. Through alternative mRNA splicing, a single gene gives rise to several distinct isoforms of VEGF, which differ in their expression patterns as well as their biochemical and biological properties. Two VEGF receptor tyrosine kinases (VEGFRs) have been identified, VEGFR-1 (Flt-1) and VEGFR-2 (KDR/Flk-1). VEGFR-2 seems to mediate almost all observed endothelial cell responses to VEGF, whereas roles for VEGFR-1 are more elusive. VEGFR-1 might act predominantly as a ligand-binding molecule, sequestering VEGF from VEGFR-2 signalling. Several isoform-specific VEGF receptors exist that modulate VEGF activity. Neuropilin-1 acts as a co-receptor for VEGF(165), enhancing its binding to VEGFR-2 and its bioactivity. Heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPGs), as well as binding certain VEGF isoforms, interact with both VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2. HSPGs have a wide variety of functions, such as the ability to partially restore lost function to damaged VEGF(165) and thereby prolonging its biological activity.
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