Migration of vascular endothelial cells in monolayers under hypoxic exposure

Yugo Tabata, Daisuke Yoshino, Kiyoe Funamoto, Rei Koens, Roger D. Kamm, Kenichi Funamoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The hypoxic microenvironment existing in vivo is known to significantly affect cell morphology and dynamics, and cell group behaviour. Collective migration of vascular endothelial cells is essential for vasculogenesis and angiogenesis, and for maintenance of monolayer integrity. Although hypoxic stress increases vascular endothelial permeability, the changes in collective migration and intracellular junction morphology of vascular endothelial cells remain poorly understood. This study reveals the migration of confluent vascular endothelial cells and changes in their adherens junction, as reflected by changes in the vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin distribution, under hypoxic exposure. Vascular endothelial monolayers of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) were formed in microfluidic devices with controllability of oxygen tension. The oxygen tension was set to either normoxia (21% O2) or hypoxia (<3% O2) by supplying gas mixtures into separate gas channels. The migration velocity of HUVECs was measured using particle image velocimetry with a time series of phase-contrast microscopic images of the vascular endothelial monolayers. Hypoxia inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and VE-cadherin in HUVECs were observed after exposure to normoxic or hypoxic conditions using immunofluorescence staining and quantitative confocal image analysis. Changes in the migration speed of HUVECs were observed in as little as one hour after exposure to hypoxic condition, showing that the migration speed was increased 1.4-fold under hypoxia compared to that under normoxia. Nuclear translocation of HIF-1α peaked after the hypoxic gas mixture was supplied for 2 h. VE-cadherin expression was also found to be reduced. When ethanol was added to the cell culture medium, cell migration increased. By contrast, by strengthening VE-cadherin junctions with forskolin, cell migration decreased gradually in spite the effect of ethanol to stimulate migration. These results indicate that the increase of cell migration by hypoxic exposure was attributable to loosening of intercellular junction resulting from the decrease of VE-cadherin expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-35
Number of pages10
JournalIntegrative Biology (United Kingdom)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jan 1


  • collective cell migration
  • forskolin
  • hypoxia
  • microfluidic device
  • vascular endothelial monolayer
  • VE-cadherin


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