Intrinsic tyrosine kinase activity is required for vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 ubiquitination, sorting and degradation in endothelial cells.
The human endothelial vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 (VEGFR2/kinase domain region, KDR/fetal liver kinase-1, Flk-1) tyrosine kinase receptor is essential for VEGF-mediated physiological responses including endothelial cell proliferation, migration and survival. How VEGFR2 kinase activation and trafficking are co-coordinated in response to VEGF-A is not known. Here, we elucidate a mechanism for endothelial VEGFR2 response to VEGF-A dependent on constitutive endocytosis co-ordinated with ligand-activated ubiquitination and proteolysis. The selective VEGFR kinase inhibitor, SU5416, blocked the endosomal sorting required for VEGFR2 trafficking and degradation. Inhibition of VEGFR2 tyrosine kinase activity did not block plasma membrane internalization but led to endosomal accumulation. Lysosomal protease activity was required for ligand-stimulated VEGFR2 degradation. Activated VEGFR2 codistributed with the endosomal hepatocyte growth factor-regulated tyrosine kinase substrate (Hrs)/signal-transducing adaptor molecule (STAM) complex in a ligand and time-dependent manner, implying a role for this factor in sorting of ubiquitinated VEGFR2. Increased tyrosine phosphorylation of the Hrs subunit in response to VEGF-A links VEGFR2 activation and Hrs/STAM function. In contrast, VEGFR2 in quiescent cells was present on both the endothelial plasma membrane and early endosomes, suggesting constitutive recycling between these two compartments. This pathway was clathrin-linked and dependent on the AP2 adaptor complex as the A23 tyrphostin inhibited VEGFR2 trafficking. We propose a mechanism whereby the transition of endothelial VEGFR2 from a constitutive recycling itinerary to a degradative pathway explains ligand-activated receptor degradation in endothelial cells. This study outlines a mechanism to control the VEGF-A-mediated response within the vascular system.