Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent mitogen critical for angiogenesis and organogenesis. Deletion or inhibition of VEGF during development not only profoundly suppresses vascular outgrowth, but significantly affects the development and function of various organs. In the brain, VEGF is thought to not only promote vascular growth, but also directly act on neurons as a neurotrophic factor by activating VEGF receptors. In the present study, we demonstrated that deletion of VEGF using hGfap-Cre line, which recombines genes specifically in cortical and hippocampal neurons, severely impaired brain organization and vascularization of these regions. The mutant mice had motor deficits, with lethality around the time of weaning. Multiple reporter lines indicated that VEGF was highly expressed in neurons, but that its cognate receptors, VEGFR1 and 2 were exclusive to endothelial cells in the brain. In accordance, mice lacking neuronal VEGFR1 and VEGFR2 did not exhibit neuronal deformities or lethality. Taken together, our data suggest that neuron-derived VEGF contributes to cortical and hippocampal development likely through angiogenesis independently of direct neurotrophic effects mediated by VEGFR1 and 2.
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