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Professor Sarah De Val, Dr Alice Neal and Dr Svanhild Nornes investigate the role of ETS factors in blood vessel specification.

The body contains many different types of blood vessels that are broadly categorised into arteries, veins, lymphatics and capillaries. Making each of these four types requires different patterns of gene expression that determine cell fate. Distinct gene expression patterns are also important during angiogenesis, the process of making new vessels from existing ones. Researchers, including Dr Alice Neal and Dr Svanhild Nornes from Professor Sarah De Val’s group, are interested in understanding how these patterns of gene expression are established.

Transcription factors are proteins that bind to DNA to control the expression of genes in response to signals. A transcription factor family called ETS is essential for activating the expression of arterial and angiogenic genes in response to vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) signalling. This led to the idea that ETS is responsible for defining arterial blood vessels and angiogenesis.

In this recent paper published in Developmental Biology, the De Val group show that ETS factors are in fact involved more generally in gene expression in arteries, veins and during angiogenesis. This suggests that other non-ETS transcription factors are required for determining the different blood vessel-specific patterns of gene expression.

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