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Background-: Sprouting angiogenesis is a key process driving blood vessel growth in ischemic tissues and an important drug target in a number of diseases, including wet macular degeneration and wound healing. Endothelial cells forming the sprout must develop front-rear polarity to allow sprout extension. The adaptor proteins Nck1 and 2 are known regulators of cytoskeletal dynamics and polarity, but their function in angiogenesis is poorly understood. Here, we show that the Nck adaptors are required for endothelial cell front-rear polarity and migration downstream of the angiogenic growth factors VEGF-A and Slit2.

Methods and Results-: Mice carrying inducible, endothelial-specific Nck1/2 deletions fail to develop front-rear polarized vessel sprouts and exhibit severe angiogenesis defects in the postnatal retina and during embryonic development. Inactivation of NCK1 and 2 inhibits polarity by preventing Cdc42 and Pak2 activation by VEGF-A and Slit2. Mechanistically, NCK binding to ROBO1 is required for both Slit2- and VEGF-induced front-rear polarity. Selective inhibition of polarized endothelial cell migration by targeting Nck1/2 prevents hypersprouting induced by Notch or Bmp signaling inhibition, and pathological ocular neovascularization and wound healing, as well.

Conclusions-: These data reveal a novel signal integration mechanism involving NCK1/2, ROBO1/2, and VEGFR2 that controls endothelial cell front-rear polarity during sprouting angiogenesis.

(C) 2016 by the American College of Cardiology Foundation and the American Heart Association, Inc.