Disruption of the precise balance of positive and negative molecular regulators of blood and lymphatic vessel growth can lead to myriad diseases. Although dozens of natural inhibitors of hemangiogenesis have been identified, an endogenous selective inhibitor of lymphatic vessel growth has not to our knowledge been previously described. We report the existence of a splice variant of the gene encoding vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (Vegfr-2) that encodes a secreted form of the protein, designated soluble Vegfr-2 (sVegfr-2), that inhibits developmental and reparative lymphangiogenesis by blocking Vegf-c function. Tissue-specific loss of sVegfr-2 in mice induced, at birth, spontaneous lymphatic invasion of the normally alymphatic cornea and hyperplasia of skin lymphatics without affecting blood vasculature. Administration of sVegfr-2 inhibited lymphangiogenesis but not hemangiogenesis induced by corneal suture injury or transplantation, enhanced corneal allograft survival and suppressed lymphangioma cellular proliferation. Naturally occurring sVegfr-2 thus acts as a molecular uncoupler of blood and lymphatic vessels; modulation of sVegfr-2 might have therapeutic effects in treating lymphatic vascular malformations, transplantation rejection and, potentially, tumor lymphangiogenesis and lymphedema (pages 993-994).
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