Stem cell factor (SCF) is a hematopoietic growth factor produced by fibroblasts and endothelial cells that stimulates the growth of primitive hematopoietic cells. SCF triggers cell growth by binding to the c-kit receptor. Because endothelial cells can respond to certain hematopoietic growth factors, we tested human umbilical vein endothelial cells for display of the c-kit receptor and examined the effect of SCF on endothelial cell proliferation, adhesion molecule expression, and production of tissue factor. Quantitative binding experiments with 125I-SCF showed both high-affinity (Kd = 42 pmol/L) and low-affinity (Kd = 1.7 nmol/L) c-kit receptors. There were approximately 1,100 high-affinity c-kit receptors, and 5,400 low- affinity c-kit receptors per endothelial cell. Enzyme immunoassays showed that endothelial cells released soluble c-kit receptor and SCF. The transmembrane form of SCF was detected by indirect immunofluorescence analysis using monoclonal or polyclonal anti-SCF receptor antibodies. The addition of SCF (100 ng/mL) did not alter endothelial cell proliferation over a 7-day period. Similarly, there was no change in the release of tissue factor or expression of inducible endothelial adhesion molecules (intercellular adhesion molecule-1, endothelial-leukocyte adhesion molecule-1, and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1) measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay at 4 and 24 hours after SCF addition. The neutralizing anti-c-kit receptor monoclonal antibody SR-1 blocked binding of 125I-SCF to the c- kit receptor by 98% but did not alter endothelial cell proliferation or adhesion-molecule expression. c-kit receptors were also detected on adult endothelial cells lining small blood vessels in normal human lymph nodes. These data indicate that normal human endothelial cells produce SCF and show high-affinity c-kit receptors that have the capacity to dimerize. The lack of response to exogenous SCF may be because of intracellular activation of the c-kit receptor via autocrine production of SCF. Alternatively, SCF and c-kit may play a role other than stimulation of proliferation, adhesion-molecule display, or tissue factor production by endothelial cells. The production of soluble c-kit receptors by normal human endothelial cells may serve to regulate the bioactivity of SCF within the bone marrow microenvironment.

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