Stalk cell phenotype depends on integration of Notch and Smad1/5 signaling cascades.
Moya IM., Umans L., Maas E., Pereira PN., Beets K., Francis A., Sents W., Robertson EJ., Mummery CL., Huylebroeck D., Zwijsen A.
Gradients of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) induce single endothelial cells to become leading tip cells of emerging angiogenic sprouts. Tip cells then suppress tip-cell features in adjacent stalk cells via Dll4/Notch-mediated lateral inhibition. We report here that Smad1/Smad5-mediated BMP signaling synergizes with Notch signaling during selection of tip and stalk cells. Endothelium-specific inactivation of Smad1/Smad5 in mouse embryos results in impaired Dll4/Notch signaling and increased numbers of tip-cell-like cells at the expense of stalk cells. Smad1/5 downregulation in cultured endothelial cells reduced the expression of several target genes of Notch and of other stalk-cell-enriched transcripts (Hes1, Hey1, Jagged1, VEGFR1, and Id1-3). Moreover, Id proteins act as competence factors for stalk cells and form complexes with Hes1, which augment Hes1 levels in the endothelium. Our findings provide in vivo evidence for a regulatory loop between BMP/TGFβ-Smad1/5 and Notch signaling that orchestrates tip- versus stalk-cell selection and vessel plasticity.