To meet tissue requirements for oxygen, capillaries must be properly distributed without excess or shortage. In this process, tissue oxygen concentration is well known to determine capillary density via the hypoxia-induced cascade, in which HIFs and VEGF play key roles. However, some additional mechanisms modulating this cascade are suggested to be involved in precise capillary network formation. Here, we showed that leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) was predominantly expressed in developing endothelium, while its receptor was expressed in surrounding cells such as retinal astrocytes. The retinas of Lif-/- mice displayed increased microvessel density accompanied by sustained tip cell activity, due to increased VEGF expression by astrocytes in the vascularized area. Lif-/- mice resisted hyperoxygen insult in the oxygen-induced retinopathy model, whereas they paradoxically had increased numbers of neovascular tufts. In an in vitro study, LIF inhibited hypoxia-induced VEGF expression and proliferation in cultured astrocytes. Lif-/- mice also exhibited similarly increased microvessel density and upregulated VEGF in various tissues outside the retina. Together, these findings suggest that tissues and advancing vasculature communicate to ensure adequate vascularization using LIF as well as oxygen, which suggests a new strategy for antiangiogenic therapy in human diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and cancer.
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