Formation of new capillary blood vessels, termed angiogenesis, is essential for the growth and development of tissues and underlies a variety of diseases including tumor growth. Members of the prolactin hormonal family bind to endothelial cell receptors and have direct effects on cell proliferation, migration and tube formation. Because many angiogenic and antiangiogenic factors are produced by endothelial cells, we investigated whether endothelial cells expressed the prolactin gene. Here we show that bovine brain capillary endothelial cells (BBCEC) in culture express the full-length prolactin messenger RNA, in addition to a novel prolactin transcript, lacking the third exon of the gene. In addition cultures of BBCEC synthesize and secrete prolactin-like immunoreactive proteins with apparent molecular masses of 23, 21 and 14 kDa. The prolactin-like nature of these proteins in supported by the observation that Nb2-cells, a prolactin-responsive cell line, were stimulated to proliferate when co-cultured with endothelial cells and this stimulation was neutralized with prolactin-directed antibodies. Finally, consistent with a possible autocrine effect of endothelial-derived prolactins, polyclonal and monoclonal prolactin antibodies specifically inhibited basal and basis fibroblast growth-factor-stimulated growth of endothelial cells. Taken together, the present findings support the hypothesis of the prolactin gene being expressed in endothelial cells as proteins that could act in an autocrine fashion to regulate cell proliferation.
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