When cultivated on substrates that prevent cell adhesion (the polymer polyhydroxyethylmethacrylate, bovine serum albumin, and Teflon), human endothelial cells (EC) rapidly lost viability with a half-life of approximately 10 h. Dying EC showed the morphological and biochemical characteristics of apoptosis. The apoptotic process of suspended EC was delayed by the protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide. To obtain information as to the mechanism involved in the apoptosis of suspended EC, we investigated whether adhesion to matrix proteins or integrin occupancy in EC retaining a round shape may affect EC suicide. EC bound to low coating concentration of either fibronectin or vitronectin, retaining a round shape and failing to organize actin microfilaments, underwent to rapid cell death; by contrast, cells on high substrate concentrations became flattened, showed actin microfilament organization, and retained viability. Addition of saturating amounts of soluble vitronectin to suspended round-shaped EC did not reduce the process of apoptosis. Finally, when suspended EC bound Gly-Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser-coated microbeads (approximately 10 microbeads/cell), yet retaining a round shape, the apoptotic process was not affected. Oncogene-transformed EC in suspension were less susceptible to cell death and apoptosis than normal EC. Overall, these data indicate that cell attachment to matrix or integrin binding per se is not sufficient for maintaining cell viability, and that cells need to undergo some minimal degree of shape change to survive. Modulation of interaction with the extracellular matrix can, therefore, be an important target for the control of angiogenesis.

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