This project is based on the observation that Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) is overexpressed within allografts in association with ischemia-reperfusion, humoral immunity and acute and chronic rejection. Current paradigms suggest that it functions as a dominant factor mediating vascular remodeling, especially in association with chronic inflammation. However, VEGF also has potent proinflammatory effects in association with cell-mediated immune inflammation. The novelty of this research proposal relates to recent observations that the VEGF receptors (VEGFR) KDR (VEGFR2), Flt-1 (VEGFR1) and neuropilin family molecules are expressed on populations of effector, memory and FOXP3high T regulatory cells. Further, our ongoing observations indicate that VEGF-KDR interactions are potent to mediate motility and activation responses within T effector cells. Nevertheless, it is not known if VEGF may interact with all T cell subsets, or whether it mediates different responses in different VEGFR-expressing T cells. In this R01, we plan to question the interplay between VEGF and Class 3 semaphorins, and how these molecules interact with their common neuropilin receptors expressed on T effector and T regulatory cells in the alloimmune response. Since VEGF is thought to compete with class 3 semaphorins for binding to the neuropilins, these observations beg the question whether VEGF binding may alter Sema3-inducible inhibitory/regulatory immune responses. Our hypothesis is that intragraft VEGF interacts with circulating VEGFR-expressing T cells, and that individual VEGFRs on T cell subsets elicit signals that either promote or suppress migratory and activation responses. We will test this hypothesis in two specific aims in which we will 1), determine the expression and function of VEGFRs in T cell subsets, and evaluate the interplay between VEGF and class 3 semaphorins for T cell chemotaxis, activation and immunoregulatory responses, and 2), determine the effect of VEGF-neuropilin-semaphorin interactions in vivo in physiological models of allograft rejection. Our proposed studies address novel and clinically relevant questions and our approach provides for cohesiveness to translate in vitro findings into clinically relevant models in vivo. Collectively, the implications and clinical relevance of this area of investigation is that local intragraft VEGF, which is traditionally thought to serve simply as an angiogenesis factor, may be a novel factor that coordinates interactions among circulating VEGFR-expressing T effector and T regulatory cells within the graft.
Organ transplantation is a life saving therapy for individuals with end stage organ failure, but all transplants eventually fail due to a process called chronic allograft rejection. We have identified that Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) facilitates the recruitment and activation of T cells. In this research proposal, we plan to perform mechanistic studies addressing questions about the molecular basis for VEGF receptor interactions in T cells, and how overexpressed VEGF within transplanted organs may result in chronic rejection.
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