Incomplete delivery to the target cells is an obstacle for successful gene therapy approaches. Here we show unexpected effects of incomplete targeting, by demonstrating how heterogeneous inhibition of a growth promoting signaling pathway promotes tissue hyperplasia. We studied the function of the lymphangiogenic VEGFR3 receptor during embryonic and post-natal development. Inducible genetic deletion of Vegfr3 in lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) leads to selection of non-targeted VEGFR3 + cells at vessel tips, indicating an indispensable cell-autonomous function in migrating tip cells. Although Vegfr3 deletion results in lymphatic hypoplasia in mouse embryos, incomplete deletion during post-natal development instead causes excessive lymphangiogenesis. Analysis of mosaically targeted endothelium shows that VEGFR3 − LECs non-cell-autonomously drive abnormal vessel anastomosis and hyperplasia by inducing proliferation of non-targeted VEGFR3 + LECs through cell-contact-dependent reduction of Notch signaling. Heterogeneity in VEGFR3 levels thus drives vessel hyperplasia, which has implications for the understanding of mechanisms of developmental and pathological tissue growth.
VEGF-C is a key regulator of lymphatic development. Here, Zhang et al. show that while complete loss of its receptor VEGFR3 results in vessel hypoplasia, mosaic loss of VEGFR3 leads to hyperplasia through induction of cell proliferation in neighboringnon-targeted cells, uncovering cell- and non-cell-autonomous roles for VEGFR3 during lymphatic vessel growth.