Department of Cancer Biology
Animals; Cells, Cultured; Epithelial Cells; Female; Focal Adhesion Protein-Tyrosine Kinases; Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental; Immunoblotting; Immunohistochemistry; Mammary Glands, Animal; Mice; Mice, Knockout; Morphogenesis; Neuropilin-2; RNA Interference; Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction; Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
Although the neuropilins were characterized as semaphorin receptors that regulate axon guidance, they also function as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptors and contribute to the development of other tissues. Here, we assessed the role of NRP2 in mouse mammary gland development based on our observation that NRP2 is expressed preferentially in the terminal end buds of developing glands. A floxed NRP2 mouse was bred with an MMTV-Cre strain to generate a mammary gland-specific knockout of NRP2. MMTV-Cre;NRP2(loxP/loxP) mice exhibited significant defects in branching morphogenesis and ductal outgrowth compared with either littermate MMTV-Cre;NRP2(+/loxP) or MMTV-Cre mice. Mechanistic insight into this morphological defect was obtained from a mouse mammary cell line in which we observed that VEGF(165), an NRP2 ligand, induces branching morphogenesis in 3D cultures and that branching is dependent upon NRP2 as shown using shRNAs and a function-blocking antibody. Epithelial cells in the mouse mammary gland express VEGF, supporting the hypothesis that this NRP2 ligand contributes to mammary gland morphogenesis. Importantly, we demonstrate that VEGF and NRP2 activate focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and promote FAK-dependent branching morphogenesis in vitro. The significance of this mechanism is substantiated by our finding that FAK activation is diminished significantly in developing MMTV-Cre;NRP2(loxP/loxP) mammary glands compared with control glands. Together, our data reveal a VEGF/NRP2/FAK signaling axis that is important for branching morphogenesis and mammary gland development. In a broader context, our data support an emerging hypothesis that directional outgrowth and branching morphogenesis in a variety of tissues are influenced by signals that were identified initially for their role in axon guidance.