Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Loss of Notch signalling induced by Dll4 causes arterial calibre reduction by increasing endothelial cell response to angiogenic stimuli

Rui Benedito127, Alexandre Trindade12, Masanori Hirashima3, Domingos Henrique4, Luis Lopes da Costa1, Janet Rossant5, Parkash S Gill6 and António Duarte12*

Author Affiliations

1 Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação em Sanidade Animal, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária, Technical University of Lisbon, Lisboa, Portugal

2 Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Oeiras, Portugal

3 Sakaguchi Laboratory of Developmental Biology, School of Medicine, Keio University, Tokyo, Japan

4 Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal

5 Department of Pathology, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA, USA

6 Program for Developmental Biology, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada

7 Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Muenster, Germany

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BMC Developmental Biology 2008, 8:117  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-8-117

Published: 16 December 2008



In the vascular system, Notch receptors and ligands are expressed mainly on arteries, with Delta-like 4 (Dll4) being the only ligand known to be expressed early during the development of arterial endothelial cells and capillaries. Dll4 null embryos die very early in development with severely reduced arterial calibre and lumen and loss of arterial cell identity.


The current detailed analysis of these mutants shows that the arterial defect precedes the initiation of blood flow and that the arterial Dll4-/- endothelial cells proliferate and migrate more actively. Dll4-/- mutants reveal a defective basement membrane around the forming aorta and increased endothelial cell migration from the dorsal aorta to peripheral regions, which constitute the main causes of arterial lumen reduction in these embryos. The increased proliferation and migration of Dll4-/- endothelial cells was found to coincide with increased expression of the receptors VEGFR-2 and Robo4 and with downregulation of the TGF-β accessory receptor Endoglin.


Together, these results strongly suggest that Notch signalling can increase arterial stability and calibre by decreasing the response of arterial endothelial cells to local gradients of pro-angiogenic factors like VEGF.