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Title: A gene transfer approach, based on Adeno-Associated Viral (AAV) vectors, to study the process of vessel maturation and stabilization
Authors: Moimas, Silvia
Supervisore/Tutore: Giacca, Mauro
Cosupervisore: Zacchigna, Serena
Issue Date: 21-Apr-2009
Publisher: Università degli studi di Trieste
The main goal of angiogenic gene therapy is the formation of functional new blood vessels adequate to restore blood flow in ischemic tissues. Angiogenesis is a complex process, consisting in the sprouting of new capillaries from pre-existing vessels to form an immature vascular network, which subsequently undergoes functional maturation and remodelling. Many factors are involved in this process and, among them, the VEGF family members are universally recognized as the key players.
During my PhD I exploited gene transfer by vectors based on the Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) to express several factors involved in the angiogenic process, in an attempt to define the molecular and cellular mechanisms of vessel maturation and stabilization. Most experiments were performed by vector injection in the mouse and rat skeletal muscle, followed by detailed histological, immunohistochemical and functional analysis.
First of all the angiogenic effect driven by two main VEGF isoforms, VEGF165 and VEGF121 was compared. AAV-VEGF165 and AAV-VEGF121 appeared equally able to induce endothelial cell proliferation, leading to the formation of new CD31 positive capillaries. However, only the longest VEGF165 isoform was capable to recruit -SMA positive cells around growing capillaries and therefore giving rise to small arteries. The acquisition of a smooth muscle cell layer can be considered as marker of vessel maturation. This was also confirmed by a permeability assay, which showed that VEGF121-induced vessels were more permeable compared to those induced by VEGF165.
Interestingly, the presence of -SMA positive vessels was paralleled by the recruitment of CD11b positive mononuclear cells from the bone marrow, cells which were not recruited by VEGF121. The presence of these infiltrating cells in close proximity to the newly formed arterioles suggested their possible role in smooth muscle cell recruitment and vessel maturation. Real-time PCR allowed observing that the infiltrating CD11b positive cells expressed a cocktail of cytokines implicated in vessel maturation, such as TGF- and PDGF-B. As a proof of concept of the paracrine activity of these cells in vessel maturation, we developed an AAV-PDGF-B vector, which, when co-injected with AAV-VEGF121, was arteriogenic even in absence of cellular infiltration. Thus, the expression of PDGF-B partially substitutes for the cells observed in the muscles injected by AAV-VEGF165 to form arterial vessels. To verify the functionality of the vessels induced by AAV-VEGF165 we delivered this vector to different animal models of tissue ischemia: a flap ischemia model and an in vivo chamber for tissue engineering based on an artero-venous loop. In both the models, VEGF165 expression induced the formation of -SMA positive vessels, which turned out to improve flap survival in the flap models, and to promote the formation of new vascularized tissue in the chamber.
Despite the presence of several arteries, other vessels formed by VEGF165 were abnormally enlarged and leaky, often forming vascular lacunae. This observation indicated that VEGF gene transfer might not be sufficient for the formation of a fully functional vascular network, and that other factors might be required in order to achieve functional competence of the neovessels. We observed that the combined expression of VEGF165 with Angiopoietin-1, which is known to stabilize endothelial and mural cell interactions, resulted in a significant reduction of vessel permeability and improved blood flow, as assessed by positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission tomography (SPECT).
These findings reveal that a fine control of the expression of angiogenic factors is needed to achieve the formation of stable and functional vessels. The presence of -SMA positive cells might be considered as a first step in vessel maturation but further stabilization factors have to take part to the process in order to tighten the cell-cell junctions. Moreover, we showed that a detailed histological and functional analysis ex vivo might not be sufficient to characterized the new vasculature, requiring imaging techniques such as PET or SPECT.
Ciclo di dottorato: XX Ciclo
metadata.dc.subject.classification: MEDICINA MOLECOLARE
Keywords: Gene therapyAngiogenesisAdeno-Associated Viral (AAV) vectorsVessel maturation
Type: Doctoral
Language: en
Settore scientifico-disciplinare: BIO/11 BIOLOGIA MOLECOLARE
NBN: urn:nbn:it:units-7459
Appears in Collections:Scienze biologiche

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