Vascular endothelial growth factor stimulates rat cholangiocyte proliferation via an autocrine mechanism.
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BACKGROUND & AIMS: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is secreted by several epithelia and modulates cellular functions by autocrine and paracrine mechanisms. The role of VEGF in cholangiocyte pathophysiology is unknown. We evaluated the role of VEGF in the regulation of cholangiocyte proliferation in rats that underwent bile duct ligation. METHODS: The expression of VEGF-A and VEGF-C and their receptors in cholangiocytes from normal and BDL rats was evaluated. Normal or BDL rats were treated with recombinant-VEGF-A or recombinant-VEGF-C or anti-VEGF antibodies, and proliferation of cholangiocytes was evaluated in situ by morphometry and in vitro by proliferating cell nuclear antigen immunoblots and MTS assay. In vitro, normal rat cholangiocyte cultures were stimulated with r-VEGF-A or r-VEGF-C and proliferation and signal transduction were evaluated. RESULTS: We found that (1) cholangiocytes express messenger RNA and protein for VEGF-A, VEGF-C, VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR-2), and VEGF receptor 3 (VEGFR-3) and secrete VEGF; (2) secretion of VEGF and expression of VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3 increases in BDL cholangiocytes; (3) blocking VEGF in vivo by anti-VEGF-A or anti-VEGF-C antibodies decreases cholangiocyte proliferation; (4) the in vivo administration of r-VEGF-A or r-VEGF-C induces cholangiocyte proliferation in normal rats; and (5) in vitro, VEGF-A increases normal rat cholangiocyte culture proliferation by activation of inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate/Ca2+/protein kinase C alpha and phosphorylation of Src/ERK1/2. CONCLUSIONS: Cholangiocytes secrete VEGF and express VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3, all of which are amplified in BDL cholangiocytes. VEGF induces cholangiocyte proliferation by activation of inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate/[Ca2+]i/protein kinase C alpha and phosphorylation of Src/ERK1/2. VEGF mediates the adaptive proliferative response of cholangiocytes to cholestasis.