The importance of lymphatic vessels in a myriad of human diseases is rapidly gaining recognition; lymphatic vessel dysfunction is a feature of disorders including congenital lymphatic anomalies, primary lymphoedema and obesity, while improved lymphatic vessel function increases the efficacy of immunotherapy for cancer and neurological disease and promotes cardiac repair following myocardial infarction. Understanding how the growth and function of lymphatic vessels is precisely regulated therefore stands to inform the development of novel therapeutics applicable to a wide range of human diseases. Lymphatic vascular development is initiated during embryogenesis following establishment of the major blood vessels and the onset of blood flow. Lymphatic endothelial progenitor cells arise from a combination of venous and non-venous sources to generate the initial lymphatic vascular structures in the vertebrate embryo, which are then further ramified and remodelled to elaborate an extensive lymphatic vascular network. Signalling mediated via vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family members and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) tyrosine kinases is crucial for development of both the blood and lymphatic vascular networks, though distinct components are utilised to different degrees in each vascular compartment. Although much is known about the regulation of VEGFA/VEGFR2 signalling in the blood vasculature, less is understood regarding the mechanisms by which VEGFC/VEGFD/VEGFR3 signalling is regulated during lymphatic vascular development. This review will focus on recent advances in our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating VEGFA-, VEGFC- and VEGFD-mediated signalling via VEGFRs which are important for driving the construction of lymphatic vessels during development and disease.
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