Sprouting angiogenesis—the infiltration and extension of endothelial cells from pre-existing blood vessels—helps orchestrate vascular growth and remodeling. It is now agreed that fluid forces, such as laminar shear stress due to unidirectional flow in straight vessel segments, are important regulators of angiogenesis. However, regulation of angiogenesis by the different flow dynamics that arise due to vessel branching, such as impinging flow stagnation at the base of a bifurcating vessel, are not well understood. Here we used a recently developed 3-D microfluidic model to investigate the role of the flow conditions that occur due to vessel bifurcations on endothelial sprouting. We observed that bifurcating fluid flow located at the vessel bifurcation point suppresses the formation of angiogenic sprouts. Similarly, laminar shear stress at a magnitude of ~3 dyn/cm2
applied in the branched vessels downstream of the bifurcation point, inhibited the formation of angiogenic sprouts. In contrast, co-application of ~1 µm/s average transvascular flow across the endothelial monolayer with laminar shear stress induced the formation of angiogenic sprouts. These results suggest that transvascular flow imparts a competing effect against bifurcating fluid flow and laminar shear stress in regulating endothelial sprouting. To our knowledge, these findings are the first report on the stabilizing role of bifurcating fluid flow on endothelial sprouting. These results also demonstrate the importance of local flow dynamics due to branched vessel geometry in determining the location of sprouting angiogenesis.
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