Induction of in vitro angiogenesis and upregulation of urokinase- and tissue type-plasminogen activator (uPA, tPA) expression are two hallmarks of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) activity on cultured endothelial cells. We report here that neutralizing antibodies to basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) inhibit VEGF-induced in vitro angiogenesis in bovine microvascular endothelial (BME) cells. Analysis of VEGF receptor-2 (VEGFR-2) expression revealed no alteration in VEGFR-2 mRNA or total protein in anti-bFGF antibody-treated BME or bovine aortic endothelial (BAE) cells. Ethidium bromide/agarose gel electrophoresis on the cytosolic fraction of BME cells revealed a basal level of fragmented DNA that was increased by anti-bFGF antibodies to an extent not exceeding that observed in parallel cultures incubated with concentrations of transforming growth factor-ss1 that increase VEGF-induced in vitro angiogenesis. In both BME and BAE cells, antibodies to bFGF also decreased basal levels of cell-associated uPA activity, and completely blocked the VEGF-mediated increase in uPA and tPA expression observed in parallel cultures incubated with VEGF alone. In contrast, PA inhibitor-1 expression was strongly upregulated in BME and BAE cells incubated with antibodies to bFGF, either alone or in combination with VEGF. These findings demonstrate that: (1) VEGF-induced in vitro angiogenesis and PA expression are dependent on endogenous bFGF, (2) that this phenomenon is not mediated by a decrease in VEGFR-2 expression and that apoptosis does not necessarily correlate with inhibition of invasion, and (3) that inhibition of endogenous bFGF in VEGF-treated cells results in a net antiproteolytic (and possibly also anti-adherent) effect, which could account in part for the inhibitory effect of the anti-bFGF antibodies. These findings point to a novel and unsuspected role for endogenous bFGF in regulating VEGF-induced in vitro angiogenesis.

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