The chemokine receptor CXCR4 is essential for vascularization of the gastrointestinal tract.
Vascularization of organs generally occurs by remodelling of the preexisting vascular system during their differentiation and growth to enable them to perform their specific functions during development. The molecules required by early vascular systems, many of which are receptor tyrosine kinases and their ligands, have been defined by analysis of mutant mice. As most of these mice die during early gestation before many of their organs have developed, the molecules responsible for vascularization during organogenesis have not been identified. The cell-surface receptor CXCR4 is a seven-transmembrane-spanning, G-protein-coupled receptor for the CXC chemokine PBSF/SDF-1 (for pre-B-cell growth-stimulating factor/stromal-cell-derived factor), which is responsible for B-cell lymphopoiesis, bone-marrow myelopoiesis and cardiac ventricular septum formation. CXCR4 also functions as a co-receptor for T-cell-line tropic human immunodeficiency virus HIV-1. Here we report that CXCR4 is expressed in developing vascular endothelial cells, and that mice lacking CXCR4 or PBSF/SDF-1 have defective formation of the large vessels supplying the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, mice lacking CXCR4 die in utero and are defective in vascular development, haematopoiesis and cardiogenesis, like mice lacking PBSF/SDF-1, indicating that CXCR4 is a primary physiological receptor for PBSF/SDF-1. We conclude that PBSF/SDF-1 and CXCR4 define a new signalling system for organ vascularization.
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