Separated before birth: Molecular signals part fetal blood and lymphatic vessels

(Philadelphia, PA) At some point in fetal development, cells from the newly emerged blood circulatory system start out on their own and form a separate parallel network of vessels known as the lymphatic system. In the January 10th issue of Science, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine report the discovery of the molecular signals necessary to separate the lymph vessel network from the blood vessel network.

Their findings clarify an important juncture in fetal development, shed light on the mechanisms by which molecular signals influence vascular development, pave the way for potential therapeutics, and may ultimately clear up a minor mystery among researchers that has been brewing since the mid-1990s.

"According to our studies, the SLP-76 and Syk proteins, which we previously knew to have a signaling function in white blood cell development, are absolutely critical in separating the lymphatic system from the circulatory system," said Gary Koretzky, MD, PhD, professor in Penn's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Signal Transduction Program at the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute. "This new role is important if we are ever to learn how to influence the growth of blood or lymphatic vessels.

For example, under some clinical circumstances, it would be useful to encourage the growth of new blood vessels or, conversely, discourage new vessels from supplying blood to growing tumors."

Since the mid-1990s, researchers have been trying to determine the exact function of SLP-76 and Syk. The proteins are related signals involved in hematopoiesis the process by which stem cells transform into red and white blood cells. To better understand the function of these signals, several groups created animal models that lacked SLP-76 or Syk in order to see what happens in their absence. Researchers in Koretzky's laboratory found that most animal models lacking SLP-76 had severe abnormalities

Contact: Greg Lester
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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