HGF receptor up-regulation contributes to the angiogenic phenotype of human endothelial cells and promotes angiogenesis in vitro
Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is a mesenchyme-derived pleiotropic growth factor and a powerful stimulator of angiogenesis, which acts on cells by binding to the c-met receptor. The exact role of the endogenous HGF/c-met system in one or more steps of the angiogenic process is not completely understood. To contribute to this question we used immunocytochemical analysis, Western blotting, and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction to study the expression of c-met in endothelial cells cultured in different growth conditions. We found that c-met is not colocalized with vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin in cell-cell junctions. c-met and VE-cadherin were shown to be inversely regulated by cell density, at both the protein and the mRNA levels. We established that c-met is up-regulated during the in vitro recapitulation of several steps of angiogenesis. The c-met expression was increased shortly after switching to angiogenic growth conditions and remained high during the very first steps of angiogenesis, including cell migration, and cell proliferation. The endothelial cells in which the expression of c-met was up-regulated were more responsive to HGF and exhibited a higher rate of morphogenesis. Moreover, the antibody directed against the extracellular domain of the c-met inhibited angiogenesis in vitro. Our results suggest that c-met is a marker of angiogenic phenotype for endothelial cells and represents an attractive target for the development of new antiangiogenic therapies.