Blood and lymphatic vessels structurally bear a strong resemblance but never share a lumen, thus maintaining their distinct functions. Although lymphatic vessels initially arise from embryonic veins, the molecular mechanism that maintains separation of these two systems has not been elucidated. Here, we show that genetic deficiency of Folliculin, a tumor suppressor, leads to misconnection of blood and lymphatic vessels in mice and humans. Absence of Folliculin results in the appearance of lymphatic-biased venous endothelial cells caused by ectopic expression of Prox1, a master transcription factor for lymphatic specification. Mechanistically, this phenotype is ascribed to nuclear translocation of the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor Transcription Factor E3 (TFE3), binding to a regulatory element of Prox1, thereby enhancing its venous expression. Overall, these data demonstrate that Folliculin acts as a gatekeeper that maintains separation of blood and lymphatic vessels by limiting the plasticity of committed endothelial cells.
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