Caveolae are flask-shaped invaginations of the plasma membrane found in numerous cell types and are particularly abundant in endothelial cells and adipocytes. The lipid composition of caveolae largely matches that of lipid rafts microdomains that are particularly enriched in cholesterol, sphingomyelin, glycosphingolipids, and saturated fatty acids. Unlike lipid rafts, whose existence remains quite elusive in living cells, caveolae can be clearly distinguished by electron microscope. Despite their similar composition and the sharing of some functions, lipid rafts appear more heterogeneous in terms of size and are more dynamic than caveolae. Following the discovery of caveolin-1, the first molecular marker as well as the unique scaffolding protein of caveolae, we have witnessed a remarkable increase in studies aimed at investigating the role of these organelles in cell functions and human disease. The goal of this review is to discuss the most recent studies related to the role of caveolae and caveolins in endothelial cells. We first recapitulate the major embryological processes leading to the formation of the vascular tree. We next discuss the contribution of caveolins and cavins to membrane biogenesis and cell response to extracellular stimuli. We also address how caveolae and caveolins control endothelial cell metabolism, a central mechanism involved in migration proliferation and angiogenesis. Finally, as regards the emergency caused by COVID-19, we propose to study the caveolar platform as a potential target to block virus entry into endothelial cells.
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