OBJECTIVE: To investigate the hypothesis that capillary proliferation in skeletal muscles, induced by a long-term increase in blood flow which elevates capillary shear stress, is associated with capillary expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). METHODS: Adult rats received prazosin in drinking water ( approximately 2 mg per day) or had extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscles stimulated by implanted electrodes for up to 14 days. At intervals, serial frozen sections of EDL were stained for alkaline phosphatase to identify capillaries, proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), and VEGF-A protein. Shear stress was estimated from capillary red blood cell velocities and diameters, measured by direct observation of epi-illuminated EDL. RESULTS: Chronic stimulation and prazosin treatment both increased capillary: fiber ratio by approximately 40% after 14 days. In stimulated muscles, the percentage of capillaries positively stained for VEGF increased within 3 to 4 days, while the density of PCNA-positive capillaries had increased 20-fold after 2 days. With prazosin, VEGF-positive capillaries increased after 2 and 4 days, accompanied by a threefold increase in PCNA. By 14 days, PCNA labeling and VEGF were still high in stimulated muscles, but no longer different from controls with prazosin. After 3 to 4 days of treatment, capillary shear stress in resting muscle was 57% higher than in controls as a result of stimulation, but 4 times higher with prazosin. CONCLUSIONS: Higher capillary shear stress with prazosin than with stimulation may upregulate VEGF expression in the early stages of treatment. Greater proliferation of capillaries preceding a higher proportion of VEGF-positive capillaries in stimulated muscles, in the presence of a modest increase in shear stress, suggests that angiogenesis was initiated by other factors in addition to shear stress.
- proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA)
- red blood cell velocity
- electrical stimulation
- capillary growth