Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) induces mild vasodilation and strong increases in microvascular permeability. Using intravital microscopy and digital integrated optical intensity image analysis, we tested, in the hamster cheek pouch microcirculation, the hypothesis that differential signaling pathways in arterioles and venules represent an in vivo regulatory mechanism in the control of vascular diameter and permeability. The experimental design involved blocking specific signaling molecules and simultaneously assessing VEGF-induced changes in arteriolar diameter and microvascular transport of FITC-Dextran 150. Inhibition of Akt [indirectly via phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase with LY-294002 or wortmannin] or PKC (with bisindolylmaleimide) reduced VEGF-induced hyperpermeability. However, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt inhibition enhanced the early phase and attenuated the late phase of VEGF-induced vasodilation, whereas blocking PKC had no effect. Inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-1/2 (with PD-98059 or AG-126) also reduced VEGF-induced hyperpermeability but did not block VEGF-induced vasodilation. Blockade of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (with N(omega)-monomethyl-l-arginine) inhibited VEGF-induced changes in both permeability and diameter. Furthermore, immunofluorescence studies with human umbilical vein endothelial cells revealed that bisindolylmaleimide, PD-98059, and l-NMMA attenuate VEGF-induced reorganization of vascular endothelial cadherin. Our data demonstrate that 1) endothelial nitric oxide synthase is a common convergence pathway for VEGF-induced changes in arteriolar diameter and microvascular permeability; 2) PKC and ERK-1/2 do not play a major role in VEGF-induced vasodilation in the hamster cheek pouch microcirculation; and 3) Akt, PKC, and ERK-1/2 are elements of the signaling cascade that regulates VEGF-stimulated microvascular hyperpermeability. Our data provide evidence for differential signaling as a regulatory step in VEGF-stimulated microvascular dynamics.
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