Recent evidence indicates that growing blood-vessel sprouts consist of endothelial cells with distinct cell fates and behaviours; however, it is not clear what signals determine these sprout cell characteristics. Here we show that Notch signalling is necessary to restrict angiogenic cell behaviour to tip cells in developing segmental arteries in the zebrafish embryo. In the absence of the Notch signalling component Rbpsuh (recombining binding protein suppressor of hairless) we observed excessive sprouting of segmental arteries, whereas Notch activation suppresses angiogenesis. Through mosaic analysis we find that cells lacking Rbpsuh preferentially localize to the terminal position in developing sprouts. In contrast, cells in which Notch signalling has been activated are excluded from the tip-cell position. In vivo time-lapse analysis reveals that endothelial tip cells undergo a stereotypical pattern of proliferation and migration during sprouting. In the absence of Notch, nearly all sprouting endothelial cells exhibit tip-cell behaviour, leading to excessive numbers of cells within segmental arteries. Furthermore, we find that flt4 (fms-related tyrosine kinase 4, also called vegfr3) is expressed in segmental artery tip cells and becomes ectopically expressed throughout the sprout in the absence of Notch. Loss of flt4 can partially restore normal endothelial cell number in Rbpsuh-deficient segmental arteries. Finally, loss of the Notch ligand dll4 (delta-like 4) also leads to an increased number of endothelial cells within segmental arteries. Together, these studies indicate that proper specification of cell identity, position and behaviour in a developing blood-vessel sprout is required for normal angiogenesis, and implicate the Notch signalling pathway in this process.
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