Establishment of a three-dimensional model to study human uterine angiogenesis. Academic Article uri icon


  • STUDY QUESTION: Can primary human uterine microvascular endothelial cells (UtMVECs) be used as a model to study uterine angiogenic responses in vitro that are relevant in pregnancy? SUMMARY ANSWER: UtMVECs demonstrated angiogenic responses when stimulated with proangiogenic factors, including sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), physiological levels of wall shear stress (WSS), human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and various combinations of estrogen and progesterone. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: During sprouting angiogenesis, signaling from growth factors and cytokines induces a monolayer of quiescent endothelial cells (ECs) lining the vasculature to degrade the extracellular matrix and invade the surrounding tissue to form new capillaries. During pregnancy and the female reproductive cycle, the uterine endothelium becomes activated and undergoes sprouting angiogenesis to increase the size and number of blood vessels in the endometrium. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: The study was designed to examine the angiogenic potential of primary human UtMVECs using the well-characterized human umbilical vein EC (HUVEC) line as a control to compare angiogenic potential. ECs were seeded onto three-dimensional (3D) collagen matrices, supplemented with known proangiogenic stimuli relevant to pregnancy and allowed to invade for 24 h. Sprouting responses were analyzed using manual and automated methods for quantification. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: RT-PCR, Western blot analysis and immunostaining were used to characterize UtMVECs. Angiogenic responses were examined using 3D invasion assays. Western blotting was used to confirm signaling responses after proangiogenic lipid, pharmacological inhibitor, and recombinant lentiviral treatments. All experiments were repeated at least three times. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: After ensuring that UtMVECs expressed the proper endothelial markers, we found that UtMVECs invade 3D collagen matrices dose-dependently in response to known proangiogenic stimuli (e.g. S1P, VEGF, bFGF, hCG, estrogen, progesterone and WSS) present during early pregnancy. Invasion responses were positively correlated with phosphorylation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (Akt) and p42/p44 mitogen-activated protein kinase (ERK). Inhibition of these second messengers significantly impaired sprouting (P < 0.01). Gene silencing of membrane type 1-matrix metalloproteinase using multiple approaches completely abrogated sprouting (P < 0.001). Finally, UtMVECs displayed a unique ability to undergo sprouting in response to hCG, and combined estrogen and progesterone treatment. LARGE SCALE DATA: Not applicable. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The study of uterine angiogenesis in vitro has limitations and any findings many not fully represent the in vivo state. However, these experiments do provide evidence for the ability of UtMVECs to be used in functional sprouting assays in a 3D environment, stimulated by physiological factors that are produced locally within the uterus during early pregnancy. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: We show that UtMVECs can be used reliably to investigate how growth factors, hormones, lipids and other factors, such as flow, affect angiogenesis in the uterus. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS: This work was supported by NIH award HL095786 to K.J.B. The authors have no conflicts of interest.

published proceedings

  • Mol Hum Reprod

author list (cited authors)

  • Duran, C. L., Abbey, C. A., & Bayless, K. J.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Duran, Camille L||Abbey, Colette A||Bayless, Kayla J

publication date

  • February 2018