, Volume 61, Issue 10, pp 1609-1616

Endothelial cells in the eyes of an immunologist

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Endothelial cell activation in the process of tumor angiogenesis and in various aspects of vascular biology has been extensively studied. However, endothelial cells also function in other capacities, including in immune regulation. Compared to the more traditional immune regulatory populations (Th1, Th2, Treg, etc.), endothelial cells have received far less credit as being immune regulators. Their regulatory capacity is multifaceted. They are critical in both limiting and facilitating the trafficking of various immune cell populations, including T cells and dendritic cells, out of the vasculature and into tissue. They also can be induced to stimulate immune reactivity or to be immune inhibitory. In each of these parameters (trafficking, immune stimulation and immune inhibition), their role can be physiological, whereby they have an active role in maintaining health. Alternatively, their role can be pathological, whereby they contribute to disease. In theory, endothelial cells are in an ideal location to recruit cells that can mediate immune reactivity to tumor tissue. Furthermore, they can activate the immune cells as they transmigrate across the endothelium into the tumor. However, what is seen is the absence of these protective effects of endothelial cells and, instead, the endothelial cells succumb to the defense mechanisms of the tumor, resulting in their acquisition of a tumor-protective role. To understand the immune regulatory potential of endothelial cells in protecting the host versus the tumor, it is useful to better understand the other circumstances in which endothelial cells modulate immune reactivities. Which of the multitude of immune regulatory roles that endothelial cells can take on seems to rely on the type of stimulus that they are encountering. It also depends on the extent to which they can be manipulated by potential dangers to succumb and contribute toward attack on the host. This review will explore the physiological and pathological roles of endothelial cells as they regulate immune trafficking, immune stimulation and immune inhibition in a variety of conditions and will then apply this information to their role in the tumor environment. Strategies to harness the immune regulatory potential of endothelial cells are starting to emerge in the non-tumor setting. Results from such efforts are expected to be applicable to being able to skew endothelial cells from having a tumor-protective role to a host-protective role.