Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors (VEGFs) and their receptors (VEGF-Rs) are important regulators for angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis. VEGFs and VEGF-Rs are not only expressed on endothelial cells but also on various subtypes of solid tumors and leukemias contributing to the growth of the malignant cells. This study was performed to examine whether VEGF-R2 (KDR) and VEGF-R3 (FLT4) are regulated by DNA methylation.
Real-time (RT) PCR analysis was performed to quantify KDR and FLT4 expression in some ninety leukemia/lymphoma cell lines, human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) and dermal microvascular endothelial cells (HDMECs). Western blot analyses and flow cytometric analyses confirmed results at the protein level. After bisulfite conversion of DNA we determined the methylation status of KDR and FLT4 by DNA sequencing and by methylation specific PCR (MSP). Western blot analyses were performed to examine the effect of VEGF-C on p42/44 MAPK activation.
Expression of KDR and FLT4 was observed in cell lines from various leukemic entities, but not in lymphoma cell lines: 16% (10/62) of the leukemia cell lines expressed KDR, 42% (27/65) were FLT4 positive. None of thirty cell lines representing six lymphoma subtypes showed more than marginal expression of KDR or FLT4. Western blot analyses confirmed KDR and FLT4 protein expression in HDMECs, HUVECs and in cell lines with high VEGF-R mRNA levels. Mature VEGF-C induced p42/44 MAPK activation in the KDR- /FLT4+ cell line OCI-AML1 verifying the model character of this cell line for VEGF-C signal transduction studies. Bisulfite sequencing and MSP revealed that GpG islands in the promoter regions of KDR and FLT4 were unmethylated in HUVECs, HDMECs and KDR+ and FLT4+ cell lines, whereas methylated cell lines did not express these genes. In hypermethylated cell lines, KDR and FLT4 were re-inducible by treatment with the DNA demethylating agent 5-Aza-2'deoxycytidine, confirming epigenetic regulation of both genes.
Our data show that VEGF-Rs KDR and FLT4 are silenced by DNA methylation. However, if the promoters are unmethylated, other factors (e.g. transactivation factors) determine the extent of KDR and FLT4 expression.