14. Endothelial Cell Activation
The activation of endothelial cells by VEGF or bFGF sets in motion a series of steps toward the creation of new blood vessels. First, the activated endothelial cells produce matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), a special class of degradative enzymes. These enzymes are then released from the endothelial cells into the surrounding tissue. The MMPs break down the extracellular matrix--support material that fills the spaces between cells and is made of proteins and polysaccharides. Breakdown of this matrix permits the migration of endothelial cells. As they migrate into the surrounding tissues, activated endothelial cells begin to divide. Soon they organize into hollow tubes that evolve gradually into a mature network of blood vessels.