During vasculogenesis and angiogenesis, endothelial cell responses to growth factors are modulated by the compositional and mechanical properties of a surrounding three-dimensional (3D) extracellular matrix (ECM) that is dominated by either cross-linked fibrin or type I collagen. While 3D-embedded endothelial cells establish adhesive interactions with surrounding ligands to optimally respond to soluble or matrix-bound agonists, the manner in which a randomly ordered ECM with diverse physico-mechanical properties is remodeled to support blood vessel formation has remained undefined. Herein, we demonstrate that endothelial cells initiate neovascularization by unfolding soluble fibronectin (Fn) and depositing a pericellular network of fibrils that serve to support cytoskeletal organization, actomyosin-dependent tension, and the viscoelastic properties of the embedded cells in a 3D-specific fashion. These results advance a new model wherein Fn polymerization serves as a structural scaffolding that displays adhesive ligands on a mechanically ideal substratum for promoting neovessel development
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