Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry

First Advisor

Dr. Craig W. Vander Kooi


The neuropilin (Nrp) family consists of multifunctional cell surface receptors with critical roles in a number of different cell and tissue types. A core aspect of Nrp function is ligand-dependent cellular adhesion and migration, where it controls the multistep process of cellular motility through integration of ligand binding, receptor coupling and signaling via the coordinated action of its extracellular and intracellular domains. While Nrp regulates cellular adhesion and motility in the cardiovascular and nervous systems under physiological conditions, the emerging pathological role of Nrp in tumor cell migration and metastasis has been identified and provides motivation for continued efforts toward developing Nrp inhibitors.

At the molecular level, the role of Nrp in adhesion and migration is intimately connected to the control of adhesive interactions and cytoskeletal reorganization. The adhesive “interactome” for Nrp draws much attention because of its lack of enzymatic activity and inability to transduce signals on its own. It is an active area of research and is still expanding dramatically. Nrp has been well defined as a co-receptor for vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR)/vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) signaling through enhancing receptor-ligand interaction in angiogenesis. Here, we contribute to this concept through characterization in more biochemical detail about Nrp-1/VEGF physical interactions. VEGF has been shown to compete with Sema3 for binding to Nrp-1 b1 ligand binding pocket. This competition fine-tunes VEGF-induced angiogenesis. Our data provides a molecular mechanism for high affinity Sema3F binding to Nrp-1 in the b1 domain. As to the VEGFR-independent function, Nrp/integrin association has been demonstrated. The functional integration has been shown for Nrp/integrin in angiogenic sprouting. Both proteins are highly expressed in endothelial tip cells to mediate endothelial cell migration during angiogenesis and knockdown of either one in mice leads to embryonic lethality due to similar defects in vascular development. To identify the structure and function correlation, we characterized in more detail about Nrp-1/integrin physical interactions with biochemical and cell-based assays. Through an integrated approach of biochemical, molecular and cellular methods, we defined the direct physical interactions between Nrp-1 and integrins. We have also extended this work to demonstrate the functional importance and contribution of the interactions in integrin-mediated cell adhesion on extracellular matrix (ECM) in angiogenesis and platelet function during wound healing and provide a molecular basis for the integration of Nrps/integrins in cell migration, adhesion to ECM, breast cancer initiation and breast cancer stem cell fate determination.