Loss of NF1 Expression in Human Endothelial Cells Promotes Autonomous Proliferation and Altered Vascular Morphogenesis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


External Institution(s)

  • Albany Medical College


Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere49222
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatusPublished - Nov 7 2012


Neurofibromatosis is a well known familial tumor syndrome, however these patients also suffer from a number of vascular anomalies. The loss of NFl from the endothelium is embryonically lethal in mouse developmental models, however little is known regarding the molecular regulation by NF1 in endothelium. We investigated the consequences of losing NF1 expression on the function of endothelial cells using shRNA. The loss of NF1 was sufficient to elevate levels of active Ras under non-stimulated conditions. These elevations in Ras activity were associated with activation of downstream signaling including activation of ERK, AKT and mTOR. Cells knocked down in NF1 expression exhibited no cellular senescence. Rather, they demonstrated augmented proliferation and autonomous entry into the cell cycle. These proliferative changes were accompanied by enhanced expression of cyclin D, phosphorylation of p27KIP, and decreases in total p27KIP levels, even under growth factor free conditions. In addition, NF1-deficient cells failed to undergo normal branching morphogenesis in a co-culture assay, instead forming planar islands with few tubules and branches. We find the changes induced by the loss of NF1 could be mitigated by co-expression of the GAP-related domain of NF1 implicating Ras regulation in these effects. Using doxycycline-inducible shRNA, targeting NF1, we find that the morphogenic changes are reversible. Similarly, in fully differentiated and stable vascular-like structures, the silencing of NF1 results in the appearance of abnormal vascular structures. Finally, the proliferative changes and the abnormal vascular morphogenesis are normalized by low-dose rapamycin treatment. These data provide a detailed analysis of the molecular and functional consequences of NF1 loss in human endothelial cells. These insights may provide new approaches to therapeutically addressing vascular abnormalities in these patients while underscoring a critical role for normal Ras regulation in maintaining the health and function of the vasculature.