Vascular endothelial cells (ECs) in angiogenesis exhibit inhomogeneous collective migration called "cell mixing", in which cells change their relative positions by overtaking each other. However, how such complex EC dynamics lead to the formation of highly ordered branching structures remains largely unknown. To uncover hidden laws of integration driving angiogenic morphogenesis, we analyzed EC behaviors in an in vitro angiogenic sprouting assay using mouse aortic explants in combination with mathematical modeling. Time-lapse imaging of sprouts extended from EC sheets around tissue explants showed directional cohesive EC movements with frequent U-turns, which often coupled with tip cell overtaking. Imaging of isolated branches deprived of basal cell sheets revealed a requirement of a constant supply of immigrating cells for ECs to branch forward. Anisotropic attractive forces between neighboring cells passing each other were likely to underlie these EC motility patterns, as evidenced by an experimentally validated mathematical model. These results suggest that cohesive movements with anisotropic cell-to-cell interactions characterize the EC motility, which may drive branch elongation depending on a constant cell supply. The present findings provide novel insights into a cell motility-based understanding of angiogenic morphogenesis.
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