The researchers said the studies provide more evidence that there is communication between developing nerves and blood vessels. Understanding how those networks communicate with each other could help researchers devise methods to prevent blood vessel growth in tumors selectively an approach to cancer treatment known as anti-angiogenesis.
The research team, which included Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators David D. Ginty and Thomas M. Jessell, published its findings November 18, 2004, in Science Express, the early online version of the journal Science. Co-first authors of the paper were Chenghua Gu in Ginty's laboratory at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Yutaka Yoshida in Jessell's laboratory at Columbia University.
In their experiments, the researchers explored the roles of two proteins involved in vascular development. One of the molecules, Semaphorin 3E (Sema3E), is a member of a family of protein signals that guides the growth of nerve cells. The other protein, plexin-D1, is a receptor protein that nestles in the membranes of growing cells and responds to external signaling proteins.
Ginty said that before the current study, plexin-D1 was known to be important for vascular development, but the specific signal to which it responded was a mystery. The molecule was also considered an important receptor in nerve cell development, and for that reason Jessell's laboratory was actively investigating plexin-D1.