2017 Volume 84 Issue 4 Pages 148-159
Endothelial cells lining blood vessels regulate vascular barrier function, which controls the passage of plasma proteins and circulating cells across the endothelium. In most normal adult tissues, endothelial cells preserve basal vascular permeability at a low level, while they increase permeability in response to inflammation. Therefore, vascular permeability is tightly controlled by a number of extracellular stimuli and mediators to maintain tissue homeostasis. Accordingly, impaired regulation of endothelial permeability causes various diseases, including chronic inflammation, asthma, edema, sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndrome, anaphylaxis, tumor angiogenesis, and diabetic retinopathy. Vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin, a member of the classical cadherin superfamily, is a component of cell-to-cell adherens junctions in endothelial cells and plays an important role in regulating vascular permeability. VE-cadherin mediates intercellular adhesion through trans-interactions formed by its extracellular domain, while its cytoplasmic domain is anchored to the actin cytoskeleton via α- and β-catenins, leading to stabilization of VE-cadherin at cell-cell junctions. VE-cadherin-mediated cell adhesions are dynamically, but tightly, controlled by mechanisms that involve protein phosphorylation and reorganization of the actomyosin cytoskeleton. Phosphorylation of VE-cadherin, and its associated-catenins, results in dissociation of the VE-cadherin/catenin complex and internalization of VE-cadherin, leading to increased vascular permeability. Furthermore, reorganization of the actomyosin cytoskeleton by Rap1, a small GTPase that belongs to the Ras subfamily, and Rho family small GTPases, regulates VE-cadherin-mediated cell adhesions to control vascular permeability. In this review, we describe recent progress in understanding the signaling mechanisms that enable dynamic regulation of VE-cadherin adhesions and vascular permeability. In addition, we discuss the possibility of novel therapeutic approaches targeting the signaling pathways controlling VE-cadherin-mediated cell adhesion in diseases associated with vascular hyper-permeability.