Neuropilins (NP1 and NP2) are vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptors that mediate developmental and tumor angiogenesis. Transgenic mice, in which both NP1 and NP2 were targeted (NP1(-/-)NP2(-/-)) died in utero at E8.5. Their yolk sacs were totally avascular. Mice deficient for NP2 but heterozygous for NP1 (NP1(+/-)NP2(-/-)) or deficient for NP1 but heterozygous for NP2 (NP1(-/-)NP2(+/-)) were also embryonic lethal and survived to E10-E10.5. The E10 yolk sacs and embryos were easier to analyze for vascular phenotype than the fragile poorly formed 8.5 embryos. The vascular phenotypes of these E10 mice were very abnormal. The yolk sacs, although of normal size, lacked the larger collecting vessels and had less dense capillary networks. PECAM staining of yolk sac endothelial cells showed the absence of branching arteries and veins, the absence of a capillary bed, and the presence of large avascular spaces between the blood vessels. The embryos displayed blood vessels heterogeneous in size, large avascular regions in the head and trunk, and blood vessel sprouts that were unconnected. The embryos were about 50% the length of wild-type mice and had multiple hemorrhages. These double NP1/NP2 knockout mice had a more severe abnormal vascular phenotype than either NP1 or NP2 single knockouts. Their abnormal vascular phenotype resembled those of VEGF and VEGFR-2 knockouts. These results suggest that NRPs are early genes in embryonic vessel development and that both NP1 and NP2 are required.
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