Department of Tissue Morphogenesis

Professor Dr. Ralf H. Adams

How lifelines find their way

If devised by an engineer, such a perfect system would set a Guinness World Record: A hundred thousand times a day – more than 36 million times a year – our heart pumps blood through a 90,000 kilometer-long network of blood vessels and minute capillaries. It supplies every organ in the body with life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients.

However, the mechanisms controlling the formation of this complex network are not completely understood  Not only is angiogenesis essential for the formation of organs during embryonic development, it also plays a role in pathological processes, such as the growth of tumors and metastases.

Ralf Adams and his team seek to elucidate which molecular signals regulate these processes – both in the healthy and the diseased organism. Research has revealed that there is no single command center for generating organs and tissue. Rather, their development occurs in a series of processes which build on each other and in which the involved cells are in continual crosstalk with their surroundings.

Adams and his team just recently discovered a vitally important molecule which mediates such crosstalk: Only when specific membrane cells of the capillaries express the protein ephrin-B2 on their surface can the cells connect firmly enough with the new sprouting vascular tubes to make these functional. Studies on mice have shown that if this molecule is lacking, the organism dies shortly after birth.

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