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The ability of blood vessels to sense and respond to stimuli such as fluid flow, shear stress, and trafficking of immune cells is critical to the proper function of the vascular system. Endothelial cells constantly remodel their cell-cell junctions and the underlying cytoskeletal network in response to these exogenous signals. This remodeling, which depends on regulation of the linkage between actin and integral junction proteins, is controlled by a complex signaling network consisting of small G proteins and their various downstream effectors. In this commentary, we summarize recent developments in understanding the small G protein RAP1 and its effector RASIP1 as critical mediators of endothelial junction stabilization, and the relationship between RAP1 effectors and modulation of different subsets of endothelial junctions.   The vasculature is a dynamic organ that is constantly exposed to a variety of signaling stimuli and mechanical stresses. In embryogenesis, nascent blood vessels form via a process termed vasculogenesis, wherein mesodermally derived endothelial precursor cells aggregate into cords, which subsequently form a lumen that permits trafficking of plasma and erythrocytes. (1)(,) (2) Angiogenesis occurs after establishment of this primitive vascular network, where new vessels sprout from existing vessels, migrate into newly expanded tissues, and anastomose to form a functional and complex circulatory network. (1)(,) (2) In the mouse, this process occurs through the second half of embryogenesis and into postnatal development in some tissues, such as the developing retinal vasculature. (3) Further, angiogenesis occurs in a variety of pathological conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, wound healing, and tumor growth. (1)(,) (2)(,) (4) Both vasculogenesis and angiogenesis are driven through signaling by vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and therapeutic agents targeting this pathway have shown efficacy in a number of diseases. (5)(-) (9) Blood vessels must have a sufficient degree of integrity so as to not allow indiscriminate leak of plasma proteins and blood cells into the underlying tissue. However, vessels must be able to sense their environment, respond to local conditions, and mediate the regulated passage of protein, fluid, and cells. For example, endothelial cells are the primary point of attachment for immune cells leaving the blood stream and entering tissue, and leukocytes subsequently migrate either through the endothelial cell body itself (the transcellular route), or through transient disassembly of cell-cell junctions (the paracellular route). (10) Precise regulation of endothelial junctions is critical to the proper maintenance of vascular integrity and related processes, and disruption of vascular cell-cell contacts is an underlying cause or contributor to numerous pathologies such as cerebral cavernous malformations (CCM) and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT). (11)(-) (13) Understanding the basic mechanisms of endothelial junction formation and maintenance will therefore lead to a greater chance of success of therapeutic intervention in these pathologic conditions, especially in instances where targeting of VEGF signaling is insufficient to resolve vascular abnormalities.


Christopher W Wilson, Weilan Ye. Regulation of vascular endothelial junction stability and remodeling through Rap1-Rasip1 signaling. Cell adhesion & migration. 2014;8(2):76-83

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PMID: 24622510

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