The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 743 - 748 (2000)

Vol 44, Issue 6

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Italy

The molecular organization of endothelial junctions and their functional role in vascular morphogenesis and permeability

Published: 30 November -0001

E Dejana, M G Lampugnani, O Martinez-Estrada and G Bazzoni

Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milano Italy.


We review here our work on the molecular and functional organization of endothelial cell-to-cell junctions. The first part of the review is dedicated to VE-cadherin, characterized by our group few years ago. This protein is a member of the large family of transmembrane adhesion proteins called cadherins. It is endothelial cell specific and plays a major role in the organization of adherens junctions. Inactivation of VE-cadherin gene or in vivo truncation of its cytoplasmic tail leads to a lethal phenotype due to the lack of correct organization of the vasculature in the embryo. We found that the defect was due to apoptosis of endothelial cells, which became unresponsive to the survival signal induced by vascular endothelial cell growth factor. Our data indicate that VE-cadherin may act as a scaffolding protein able to associate vascular endothelial cell growth factor receptor and to promote its signaling. In the second part of the review we consider another protein more recently discovered by us and called junctional adhesion molecule (JAM). This protein is a small immunoglobulin which is located at tight junctions in the endothelium and in epithelial cells. Evidence is discussed indicating that JAM takes part in the organization of tight junctions and modulates leukocyte extravasation through endothelial intercellular junctions in vitro and in vivo. The general role of tight junctions in endothelial cells is also discussed.

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