To date, adult lymphangiogenesis is not well understood. In this study we describe the evolution of lymphatic capillaries in regenerating skin and correlate lymphatic migration and organization with the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), immune cells, the growth factors VEGF-A and VEGF-C, and the heparan sulfate proteogylcan perlecan, a key component of basement membrane. We show that while lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) migrate and organize unidirectionally, in the direction of interstitial fluid flow, they do not sprout into the region but rather migrate as single cells that later join together into vessels. Furthermore, in a modified “shunted flow” version of the model, infiltrated LECs fail to organize into functional vessels, indicating that interstitial fluid flow is necessary for lymphatic organization. Perlecan expression on new lymphatic vessels was only observed after vessel organization was complete and also appeared first in the distal region, consistent with the directionality of lymphatic migration and organization. VEGF-C expression peaked at the initiation of lymphangiogenesis but was reduced to lower levels throughout organization and maturation. In mice lacking MMP-9, lymphatics regenerated normally, suggesting that MMP-9 is not required for lymphangiogenesis, at least in mouse skin. This study thus characterizes the process of adult lymphangiogenesis and differentiates it from sprouting blood angiogenesis, verifies its dependence on interstitial fluid flow for vessel organization, and correlates its temporal evolution with those of relevant environmental factors.
lymphatic; vasculogenesis; interstitial fluid flow; matrix metalloproteinase-9; perlecan
Lymphangiogenesis is a highly regulated process involved in the pathogenesis of disease. Current in vivo models to assess lymphangiogenesis are largely unphysiologic. The zebrafish is a powerful model system for studying development, due to its rapid growth and transparency during early stages of life. Identification of a network of trunk lymphatic capillaries in zebrafish provides an opportunity to quantify lymphatic growth in vivo.
Methods and Results
Late-phase microangiography was used to detect trunk lymphatic capillaries in zebrafish 2- and 3-days post-fertilization. Using this approach, real-time changes in lymphatic capillary development were measured in response to modulators of lymphangiogenesis. Recombinant human vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C added directly to the zebrafish aqueous environment as well as human endothelial and mouse melanoma cell transplantation resulted in increased lymphatic capillary growth, while morpholino-based knockdown of vegfc and chemical inhibitors of lymphangiogenesis added to the aqueous environment resulted in decreased lymphatic capillary growth.
Lymphatic capillaries in embryonic and larval zebrafish can be quantified using late-phase microangiography. Human activators and small molecule inhibitors of lymphangiogenesis, as well as transplanted human endothelial and mouse melanoma cells, alter lymphatic capillary development in zebrafish. The ability to rapidly quantify changes in lymphatic growth under physiologic conditions will allow for broad screening of lymphangiogenesis modulators, as well as help define cellular roles and elucidate pathways of lymphatic development.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF-A) is a major regulator of blood vessel formation and function. It controls several processes in endothelial cells, such as proliferation, survival, and migration, but it is not known how these are coordinately regulated to result in more complex morphogenetic events, such as tubular sprouting, fusion, and network formation. We show here that VEGF-A controls angiogenic sprouting in the early postnatal retina by guiding filopodial extension from specialized endothelial cells situated at the tips of the vascular sprouts. The tip cells respond to VEGF-A only by guided migration; the proliferative response to VEGF-A occurs in the sprout stalks. These two cellular responses are both mediated by agonistic activity of VEGF-A on VEGF receptor 2. Whereas tip cell migration depends on a gradient of VEGF-A, proliferation is regulated by its concentration. Thus, vessel patterning during retinal angiogenesis depends on the balance between two different qualities of the extracellular VEGF-A distribution, which regulate distinct cellular responses in defined populations of endothelial cells.
VEGF; endothelial cell; filopodia; astrocyte; migration; proliferation
Lymphatic vessel growth, or lymphangiogenesis, is regulated by vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) and -D via VEGF receptor 3 (VEGFR-3). Recent studies suggest that VEGF, which does not bind to VEGFR-3, can also induce lymphangiogenesis through unknown mechanisms. To dissect the receptor pathway that triggers VEGFR-3–independent lymphangiogenesis, we used both transgenic and adenoviral overexpression of placenta growth factor (PlGF) and VEGF-E, which are specific activators of VEGFR-1 and -2, respectively. Unlike PlGF, VEGF-E induced circumferential lymphatic vessel hyperplasia, but essentially no new vessel sprouting, when transduced into mouse skin via adenoviral vectors. This effect was not inhibited by blocking VEGF-C and -D. Postnatal lymphatic hyperplasia, without increased density of lymphatic vessels, was also detected in transgenic mice expressing VEGF-E in the skin, but not in mice expressing PlGF. Surprisingly, VEGF-E induced lymphatic hyperplasia postnatally, and it did not rescue the loss of lymphatic vessels in transgenic embryos where VEGF-C and VEGF-D were blocked. Our data suggests that VEGFR-2 signals promote lymphatic vessel enlargement, but unlike in the blood vessels, are not involved in vessel sprouting to generate new lymphatic vessels in vivo.
To investigate the novel hypothesis that Bone Marrow kinase on the X chromosome (Bmx), an established inflammatory mediator of pathological angiogenesis, promotes lymphangiogenesis.
Methods and Results
We have recently demonstrated a critical role for Bmx in inflammatory angiogenesis. However, the role of Bmx in lymphangiogenesis has not been investigated. Here we show that in WT mice, Bmx is upregulated in lymphatic vessels in response to vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). In comparison to WT mice, Bmx deficient mice (Bmx-KO) mount weaker lymphangiogenic responses to VEGF-A and VEGF-C in two mouse models. In vitro, Bmx is expressed in cultured human dermal microvascular lymphatic endothelial cells (HLEC). Furthermore, pharmacological inhibition and siRNA mediated silencing of Bmx reduces VEGF-A and VEGF-Cinduced signaling and LEC tube formation. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that Bmx differentially regulates VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3 receptor signaling pathways: Bmx associates with and directly regulates VEGFR-2 activation while Bmx associates with VEGFR-3 and regulates downstream signaling without an effect on the receptor autophosphosphorylation.
Our in vivo and in vitro results provide the first insight into the mechanism by which Bmx mediates VEGF-dependent lymphangiogenic signaling.
Bmx; VEGF; VEGFR-2; VEGFR-3; lymphangiogenesis; vascular biology
Most bladder cancer patients experience lymphatic metastasis in the course of disease progression, yet the relationship between lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis is not well known. The aim of this study is to elucidate underlying mechanisms of how expanded lymphatic vessels and tumor microenvironment interacts each other and to find effective therapeutic options to inhibit lymphatic metastasis.
The orthotopic urinary bladder cancer (OUBC) model was generated by intravesical injection of MBT-2 cell lines. We investigated the angiogenesis, lymphangiogenesis, and CD11b+/CD68+ tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) by using immunofluorescence staining. OUBC displayed a profound lymphangiogenesis and massive infiltration of TAM in primary tumor and lymphatic metastasis in lymph nodes. TAM flocked near lymphatic vessels and express higher levels of VEGF-C/D than CD11b- cells. Because VEGFR-3 was highly expressed in lymphatic vascular endothelial cells, TAM could assist lymphangiogenesis by paracrine manner in bladder tumor. VEGFR-3 expressing adenovirus was administered to block VEGF-C/D signaling pathway and clodronate liposome was used to deplete TAM. The blockade of VEGF-C/D with soluble VEGF receptor-3 markedly inhibited lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis in OUBC. In addition, the depletion of TAM with clodronate liposome exerted similar effects on OUBC.
VEGF-C/D are the main factors of lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis in bladder cancer. Moreover, TAM plays an important role in these processes by producing VEGF-C/D. The inhibition of lymphangiogenesis could provide another therapeutic target to inhibit lymphatic metastasis and recurrence in patients with invasive bladder cancer.
Analyses of microvascular networks with traditional tracer filling techniques suggest that the blood and lymphatic systems are distinct without direct communications, yet involvement of common growth factors during angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis suggest that interactions at the capillary level are possible. In order to investigate the structural basis for lymphatic/blood endothelial cell connections during normal physiological growth, the objective of this study was to characterize the spatial relations between lymphatic and blood capillaries in adult rat mesenteric tissue. Using immunohistochemical methods, adult male Wistar rat mesenteric tissues were labeled with antibodies against PECAM (an endothelial marker) and LYVE-1, Prox-1, or Podoplanin (lymphatic endothelial markers) or NG2 (a pericyte marker). Positive PECAM labeling identified apparent lymphatic/blood endothelial cell connections at the capillary level characterized by direct contact or direct alignment with one another. In PECAM labeled networks, a subset of the lymphatic and blood capillary blind ends were connected with each other. Intravital imaging of FITC-Albumin injected through the femoral vein did not identify lymphatic vessels. At contact sites, lymphatic endothelial markers did not extend along blood capillary segments. However, PECAM positive lymphatic sprouts, structurally similar to blood capillary sprouts, lacked observable lymphatic marker labeling. These observations suggest that non-lumenal lymphatic/blood endothelial cell interactions exist in unstimulated adult microvascular networks and highlight the potential for lymphatic/blood endothelial cell plasticity.
Microcirculation; Angiogenesis; Lymphangiogenesis; Endothelial Cell
Vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C) is a key mediator of lymphangiogenesis, acting via its receptors VEGF-R2 and VEGF-R3. High expression of VEGF-C in tumors correlates with increased lymphatic vessel density, lymphatic vessel invasion, sentinel lymph node metastasis and poor prognosis. Recently, we found that in a chemically induced skin carcinoma model, increased VEGF-C drainage from the tumor enhanced lymphangiogenesis in the sentinel lymph node and facilitated metastatic spread of cancer cells via the lymphatics. Hence, interference with the VEGF-C/VEGF-R3 axis holds promise to block metastatic spread, as recently shown by use of a neutralizing anti-VEGF-R3 antibody and a soluble VEGF-R3 (VEGF-C/D trap). By antibody phage-display, we have developed a human monoclonal antibody fragment (single-chain Fragment variable, scFv) that binds with high specificity and affinity to the fully processed mature form of human VEGF-C. The scFv binds to an epitope on VEGF-C that is important for receptor binding, since binding of the scFv to VEGF-C dose-dependently inhibits the binding of VEGF-C to VEGF-R2 and VEGF-R3 as shown by BIAcore and ELISA analyses. Interestingly, the variable heavy domain (VH) of the anti-VEGF-C scFv, which contains a mutation typical for camelid heavy chain-only antibodies, is sufficient for binding VEGF-C. This reduced the size of the potentially VEGF-C-blocking antibody fragment to only 14.6 kDa. Anti-VEGF-C VH-based immunoproteins hold promise to block the lymphangiogenic activity of VEGF-C, which would present a significant advance in inhibiting lymphatic-based metastatic spread of certain cancer types.
Edema occurs in asthma and other inflammatory diseases when the rate of plasma leakage from blood vessels exceeds the drainage through lymphatic vessels and other routes. It is unclear to what extent lymphatic vessels grow to compensate for increased leakage during inflammation and what drives the lymphangiogenesis that does occur. We addressed these issues in mouse models of (a) chronic respiratory tract infection with Mycoplasma pulmonis and (b) adenoviral transduction of airway epithelium with VEGF family growth factors. Blood vessel remodeling and lymphangiogenesis were both robust in infected airways. Inhibition of VEGFR-3 signaling completely prevented the growth of lymphatic vessels but not blood vessels. Lack of lymphatic growth exaggerated mucosal edema and reduced the hypertrophy of draining lymph nodes. Airway dendritic cells, macrophages, neutrophils, and epithelial cells expressed the VEGFR-3 ligands VEGF-C or VEGF-D. Adenoviral delivery of either VEGF-C or VEGF-D evoked lymphangiogenesis without angiogenesis, whereas adenoviral VEGF had the opposite effect. After antibiotic treatment of the infection, inflammation and remodeling of blood vessels quickly subsided, but lymphatic vessels persisted. Together, these findings suggest that when lymphangiogenesis is impaired, airway inflammation may lead to bronchial lymphedema and exaggerated airflow obstruction. Correction of defective lymphangiogenesis may benefit the treatment of asthma and other inflammatory airway diseases.
There is growing evidence that vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A), a ligand of the receptor tyrosine kinases VEGFR1 and VEGFR2, promotes lymphangiogenesis. However, the underlying mechanisms by which VEGF-A induces the growth of lymphatic vessels remain poorly defined. Here we report that VEGFR2, not VEGFR1, is the primary receptor regulating VEGF-A-induced lymphangiogenesis. We show that specific inhibition of VEGF-A/VEGFR2 signaling with the fully human monoclonal antibody r84 significantly inhibits lymphangiogenesis in MDA-MB-231 tumors. In vitro experiments with primary human dermal lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) demonstrate that blocking VEGF-A activation of VEGFR2, not VEGFR1, significantly inhibits VEGF-A-induced proliferation and migration of LECs. We show that VEGF-A stimulation of LECs leads to the phosphorylation of VEGFR2 (Tyr 951, 1054, 1059, 1175, and 1214) which subsequently triggers PKC dependent phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and PI3-K dependent phosphorylation of Akt. Additionally, we demonstrate that inhibitors that suppress the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and Akt significantly block VEGF-A- induced proliferation and migration of LECs. Together, these results shed light on the mechanisms regulating VEGF-A-induced proliferation and migration of LECs, reveal that VEGFR2 is the primary signaling VEGF-A receptor on lymphatic endothelium, and suggest that therapeutic agents targeting the VEGF-A/VEGFR2 axis could be useful in blocking the pathological formation of lymphatic vessels.
Metastasis to regional lymph nodes via lymphatic vessels plays a key role in cancer progression. Tumor lymphangiogenesis is known to promote lymphatic metastasis, and vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C) is a critical activator of tumor lymphangiogenesis during the process of metastasis. We previously identified periostin as an invasion- and angiogenesis-promoting factor in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). In this study, we discovered a novel role for periostin in tumor lymphangiogenesis.
Methods and Findings
Periostin overexpression upregulated VEGF-C mRNA expression in HNSCC cells. By using conditioned media from periostin-overexpressing HNSCC cells, we examined tube formation of lymphatic endothelial cells. Conditioned media from periostin-overexpressing cells promoted tube formation. To know the correlation between periostin and VEGF-C, we compared Periostin expression with VEGF-C expression in 54 HNSCC cases by immunohistochemistry. Periostin expression was correlated well with VEGF-C expression in HNSCC cases. Moreover, correlation between periostin and VEGF-C secretion was observed in serum from HNSCC patients. Interestingly, periostin itself promoted tube formation of lymphatic endothelial cells independently of VEGF-C. Periostin-promoted lymphangiogenesis was mediated by Src and Akt activity. Indeed possible correlation between periostin and lymphatic status in periostin-overexpressing xenograft tumors and HNSCC cases was observed.
Our findings suggest that periostin itself as well as periostin-induced upregulation of VEGF-C may promote lymphangiogenesis. We suggest that periostin may be a marker for prediction of malignant behaviors in HNSCC and a potential target for future therapeutic intervention to obstruct tumoral lymphatic invasion and lymphangiogenesis in HNSCC patients.
Mounting clinical and experimental data suggest that the migration of tumor cells into lymph nodes is greatly facilitated by lymphangiogenesis. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C and D have been identified as lymphangiogenic growth factors and play an important role in tumor lymphangiogenesis. The purpose of this study was to investigate the location of lymphangiogenesis driven by tumor-derived VEGF-C/D in breast cancer, and to determine the role of intratumoral and peritumoral lymphatic vessel density (LVD) in lymphangiogenesis in breast cancer.
The expression levels of VEGF-C/D were determined by immunohistochemistry, and intratumoral LVD and peritumoral LVD were assessed using immunohistochemistry and the D2-40 antibody in 73 patients with primary breast cancer. The associations of intratumoral LVD and peritumoral LVD with VEGF-C/D expression, clinicopathological features and prognosis were assessed.
VEGF-C and D expression were significantly higher in breast cancer than benign disease (P < 0.01). VEGF-C (P < 0.001) and VEGF-D (P = 0.005) expression were significantly associated with peritumoral LVD, but not intratumoral LVD. Intratumoral LVD was associated with tumor size (P = 0.01). Peritumoral LVD was significantly associated with lymph node metastasis (LNM; P = 0.005), lymphatic vessel invasion (LVI; P = 0.017) and late tumor,node, metastasis (TNM) stage (P = 0.011). Moreover, peritumoral LVD was an independent risk factor for axillary lymph node metastasis, overall survival and disease-free survival in multivariate analysis.
This study suggests that tumor-derived VEGF-C/D induce peritumoral lymphangiogenesis, which may be one mechanism that leads to lymphatic invasion and metastatic spread. Peritumoral LVD has potential as an independent prognostic factor in breast cancer patients.
Breast cancer; Lymphangiogenesis; Metastasis; VEGF-C; VEGF-D
Abnormal lymphatic vessel formation (lymphangiogenesis) is associated with different pathologies such as cancer, lymphedema, psoriasis and graft rejection. Lymphatic vasculature displays distinctive features than blood vasculature, and mechanisms underlying the formation of new lymphatic vessels during physiological and pathological processes are still poorly documented. Most studies on lymphatic vessel formation are focused on organism development rather than lymphangiogenic events occurring in adults. We have here studied lymphatic vessel formation in two in vivo models of pathological lymphangiogenesis (corneal assay and lymphangioma). These data have been confronted to those generated in the recently set up in vitro model of lymphatic ring assay. Ultrastructural analyses through Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) were performed to investigate tube morphogenesis, an important differentiating process observed during endothelial cell organization into capillary structures.
In both in vivo models (lymphangiogenic corneal assay and lymphangioma), migrating lymphatic endothelial cells extended long processes exploring the neighboring environment and organized into cord-like structures. Signs of intense extracellular matrix remodeling were observed extracellularly and inside cytoplasmic vacuoles. The formation of intercellular spaces between endothelial cells led to tube formation. Proliferating lymphatic endothelial cells were detected both at the tips of sprouting capillaries and inside extending sprouts. The different steps of lymphangiogenesis observed in vivo are fully recapitulated in vitro, in the lymphatic ring assay and include: (1) endothelial cell alignment in cord like structure, (2) intracellular vacuole formation and (3) matrix degradation.
In this study, we are providing evidence for lymphatic vessel formation through tunneling relying on extensive matrix remodeling, migration and alignment of sprouting endothelial cells into tubular structures. In addition, our data emphasize the suitability of the lymphatic ring assay to unravel mechanisms underlying lymphangiogenesis.
The role of lymphangiogenesis in inflammation has remained unclear. To investigate the role of lymphatic versus blood vasculature in chronic skin inflammation, we inhibited vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor (VEGFR) signaling by function-blocking antibodies in the established keratin 14 (K14)–VEGF-A transgenic (Tg) mouse model of chronic cutaneous inflammation. Although treatment with an anti–VEGFR-2 antibody inhibited skin inflammation, epidermal hyperplasia, inflammatory infiltration, and angiogenesis, systemic inhibition of VEGFR-3, surprisingly, increased inflammatory edema formation and inflammatory cell accumulation despite inhibition of lymphangiogenesis. Importantly, chronic Tg delivery of the lymphangiogenic factor VEGF-C to the skin of K14-VEGF-A mice completely inhibited development of chronic skin inflammation, epidermal hyperplasia and abnormal differentiation, and accumulation of CD8 T cells. Similar results were found after Tg delivery of mouse VEGF-D that only activates VEGFR-3 but not VEGFR-2. Moreover, intracutaneous injection of recombinant VEGF-C156S, which only activates VEGFR-3, significantly reduced inflammation. Although lymphatic drainage was inhibited in chronic skin inflammation, it was enhanced by Tg VEGF-C delivery. Together, these results reveal an unanticipated active role of lymphatic vessels in controlling chronic inflammation. Stimulation of functional lymphangiogenesis via VEGFR-3, in addition to antiangiogenic therapy, might therefore serve as a novel strategy to treat chronic inflammatory disorders of the skin and possibly also other organs.
Cutaneous melanoma spreads preferentially through the lymphatic route and sentinel lymph node (SLN) status is regarded as the most important predictor of survival.
To evaluate whether tumour lymphangiogenesis and the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF‐C) is related to the risk of SLN metastasis and to clinical outcome in a case–control series of patients with melanoma.
Forty five invasive melanoma specimens (15 cases and 30 matched controls) were investigated by immunostaining for the lymphatic endothelial marker D2‐40 and for VEGF‐C. Lymphangiogenesis was measured using computer assisted morphometric analysis.
Peritumorous lymphatic vessels were more numerous, had larger average size, and greater relative area than intratumorous lymphatics. The number and area of peritumorous and intratumorous lymphatics was significantly higher in melanomas associated with SLN metastasis than in non‐metastatic melanomas. No significant difference in VEGF‐C expression by neoplastic cells was shown between metastatic and non‐metastatic melanomas. Using logistic regression analysis, intratumorous lymphatic vessel (LV) area was the most significant predictor of SLN metastasis (p = 0.04). Using multivariate analysis, peritumorous LV density was an independent variable affecting overall survival, whereas the intratumorous LV area approached significance (p = 0.07).
This study provides evidence that the presence of high peritumorous and intratumorous lymphatic microvessel density is associated with SLN metastasis and shorter survival. The intratumorous lymphatic vessel area is the most significant factor predicting SLN metastasis. The tumour associated lymphatic network constitutes a potential criterion in the selection of high risk patients for complementary treatment and a new target for antimelanoma therapeutic strategies.
D2‐40; lymphangiogenesis; melanoma, vascular endothelial growth factor C; sentinel lymph node
Physiologically, the lymphatic system regulates fluid volume in the interstitium and provides a conduit for immune cells to travel to lymph nodes, but pathologically, the lymphatic system serves as a primary escape route for cancer cells. Lymphatic capillaries have a thin discontinuous basement membrane, lack pericyte coverage, and often contain endothelial cell gaps that can be invaded by immune cells (or tumor cells). In addition, tumor cells and stromal cells in the tumor microenvironment secrete factors that stimulate lymphangiogenesis, the growth of lymphatic endothelial cells and the sprouting of lymphatic capillaries. As a result, many tumors are surrounded by large, hyperplastic, peri-tumoral lymphatic vessels and less frequently are invaded by intra-tumoral lymphatic vessels. Carcinoma cells commonly metastasize through these lymphatic vessels to regional lymph nodes. The presence of metastatic cells in the sentinel lymph node is a prognostic indicator for many types of cancer, and the degree of dissemination determines the therapeutic course of action. Lymphangiogenesis is currently at the frontier of metastasis research. Recent strides in this field have uncovered numerous signaling pathways specific for lymphatic endothelial cells and vascular endothelial cells. This review will provide an overview of tumor lymphangiogenesis and current strategies aimed at inhibiting lymphatic metastasis. Novel therapeutic approaches that target the tumor cells as well as the vascular and lymphatic endothelial compartments are discussed.
Angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis, the growth of new vessels from preexisting ones, have received increasing interest due to their role in tumor growth and metastatic spread. However, vascular remodeling, associated with vascular hyperpermeability, is also a key feature of many chronic inflammatory diseases including asthma, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The major drivers of angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis are vascular endothelial growth factor- (VEGF-)A and VEGF-C, activating specific VEGF receptors on the lymphatic and blood vascular endothelium. Recent experimental studies found potent anti-inflammatory responses after targeted inhibition of activated blood vessels in models of chronic inflammatory diseases. Importantly, our recent results indicate that specific activation of lymphatic vessels reduces both acute and chronic skin inflammation. Thus, antiangiogenic and prolymphangiogenic therapies might represent a new approach to treat chronic inflammatory disorders, including those due to chronic allergic inflammation.
Recent studies involving animal models of cancer and clinicopathological analyses of human tumours suggest that the growth of lymphatic vessels (lymphangiogenesis) in or nearby tumours is associated with the metastatic spread of cancer. The best validated molecular signalling system for tumour lymphangiogenesis involves the secreted proteins vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) and VEGF-D that induce growth of lymphatic vessels via activation of VEGF receptor-3 (VEGFR-3) localised on the surface of lymphatic endothelial cells. In this review, we discuss the evidence supporting a role for this signalling system in the spread of cancer and potential approaches for blocking this system to prevent tumour metastasis.
inhibitor; lymphatic vessel; VEGF-C; VEGF-D; VEGFR-3
Metastasis is a common event and the main cause of death in cancer patients. Lymphangiogenesis refers to the formation of new lymphatic vessels and is thought to be involved in the development of metastasis. Sunitinib is a multi-kinase inhibitor that blocks receptor tyrosine kinase activity, including that of vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFRs). Although sunitinib is a clinically available angiogenesis inhibitor, its effects on lymphangiogenesis and lymph node metastasis remain unclear. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of sunitinib on vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 3 (VEGFR-3) and a related event, lymphangiogenesis.
The effects of sunitinib on the degree of phosphorylation of VEGFR-2/3 and other signaling molecules was examined in lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) treated with the drug; VEGF-induced LEC growth, migration, and tube formation were also examined. For the in vivo study, luciferase-expressing breast cancer cells were transplanted into mammary fat pads of mice; the microvessel and lymphatic vessel density was then measured after treatment with sunitinib and anti-VEGFR-2 antibody.
First, in human LECs, sunitinib blocked both VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3 phosphorylation induced by VEGF-C or VEGF-D, and abrogated the activation of the downstream molecules extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) and Akt. Furthermore, sunitinib attenuated the cell-proliferation activity induced by VEGF-C/D and prevented VEGF-C-induced migration and tube formation of the LECs; however, anti-VEGFR2 treatment shows only a partial effect on the growth and functions of the LECs. We used a breast cancer cell line expressing luciferase as a metastatic cancer model. Sunitinib treatment (40 mg/kg/day) inhibited the growth of the primary tumor transplanted in the mammary fat pad of the mice and significantly reduced the number of blood and lymphatic vessels in the tumor. Furthermore, the development of axillary lymph node metastasis, detected by bioluminescent imaging, was markedly suppressed. This effect of sunitinib was more potent than that of DC101, an anti-mouse VEGFR-2 antibody.
The results suggest that sunitinib might be beneficial for the treatment of breast cancer by suppressing lymphangiogenesis and lymph node metastasis, through inhibition, particularly important, of VEGFR-3.
If neuropilin-2 and the growth factor VEGF-C don’t come together, lymphatic vessels don’t branch apart.
Vascular sprouting is a key process-driving development of the vascular system. In this study, we show that neuropilin-2 (Nrp2), a transmembrane receptor for the lymphangiogenic vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C), plays an important role in lymphatic vessel sprouting. Blocking VEGF-C binding to Nrp2 using antibodies specifically inhibits sprouting of developing lymphatic endothelial tip cells in vivo. In vitro analyses show that Nrp2 modulates lymphatic endothelial tip cell extension and prevents tip cell stalling and retraction during vascular sprout formation. Genetic deletion of Nrp2 reproduces the sprouting defects seen after antibody treatment. To investigate whether this defect depends on Nrp2 interaction with VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR2) and/or 3, we intercrossed heterozygous mice lacking one allele of these receptors. Double-heterozygous nrp2vegfr2 mice develop normally without detectable lymphatic sprouting defects. In contrast, double-heterozygote nrp2vegfr3 mice show a reduction of lymphatic vessel sprouting and decreased lymph vessel branching in adult organs. Thus, interaction between Nrp2 and VEGFR3 mediates proper lymphatic vessel sprouting in response to VEGF-C.
Lymphatic metastasis is the main prognostic factor for survival of patients with breast cancer and other epithelial malignancies. Mounting clinical and experimental data suggest that migration of tumor cells into the lymph nodes is greatly facilitated by lymphangiogenesis, a process that generates new lymphatic vessels from pre-existing lymphatics with the aid of circulating lymphatic endothelial progenitor cells. The key protein that induces lymphangiogenesis is vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-3 (VEGFR-3), which is activated by vascular endothelial growth factor-C and -D (VEGF-C and VEGF-D). These lymphangiogenic factors are commonly expressed in malignant, tumor-infiltrating and stromal cells, creating a favorable environment for generation of new lymphatic vessels. Clinical evidence demonstrates that increased lymphatic vessel density in and around tumors is associated with lymphatic metastasis and reduced patient survival. Recent evidence shows that breast cancers induce remodeling of the local lymphatic vessels and the regional lymphatic network in the sentinel and distal lymph nodes. These changes include an increase in number and diameter of tumor-draining lymphatic vessels. Consequently, lymph flow away from the tumor is increased, which significantly increases tumor cell metastasis to draining lymph nodes and may contribute to systemic spread. Collectively, recent advances in the biology of tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis suggest that chemical inhibitors of this process may be an attractive target for inhibiting tumor metastasis and cancer-related death. Nevertheless, this is a relatively new field of study and much remains to be established before the concept of tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis is accepted as a viable anti-metastatic target. This review summarizes the current concepts related to breast cancer lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis while highlighting controversies and unanswered questions.
lymphangiogenesis; VEGF-C•VEGFR-3 axis; breast cancer; lymph nodes; lymphatic metastasis
Vascular permeability factor/vascular endothelial growth factor (VPF/VEGF, VEGF-A) is a multifunctional cytokine with important roles in pathological angiogenesis. Using an adenoviral vector engineered to express murine VEGF-A164, we previously investigated the steps and mechanisms by which this cytokine induced the formation of new blood vessels in adult immunodeficient mice and demonstrated that the newly formed blood vessels closely resembled those found in VEGF-A–expressing tumors. We now report that, in addition to inducing angiogenesis, VEGF-A164 also induces a strong lymphangiogenic response. This finding was unanticipated because lymphangiogenesis has been thought to be mediated by other members of the VPF/VEGF family, namely, VEGF-C and VEGF-D. The new “giant” lymphatics generated by VEGF-A164 were structurally and functionally abnormal: greatly enlarged with incompetent valves, sluggish flow, and delayed lymph clearance. They closely resembled the large lymphatics found in lymphangiomas/lymphatic malformations, perhaps implicating VEGF-A in the pathogenesis of these lesions. Whereas the angiogenic response was maintained only as long as VEGF-A was expressed, giant lymphatics, once formed, became VEGF-A independent and persisted indefinitely, long after VEGF-A expression ceased. These findings raise the possibility that similar, abnormal lymphatics develop in other pathologies in which VEGF-A is overexpressed, e.g., malignant tumors and chronic inflammation.
VEGF-C; VEGF-D; PlGF; VPF/VEGF; VEGF-A
Metastasis via the lymphatic system is promoted by lymphangiogenesis. Alterations of the lymphatic channels during the progression of metastasis to regional lymph nodes (LNs) remain unexplored. To examine whether tumor-induced LN lymphangiogenesis controls metastasis to regional LNs, we investigated cervical LN metastasis in a mouse model of oral melanoma.
Injection of B16F10 melanoma cells into mouse tongues replicated spontaneous cervical LN metastasis. We performed histological, immunofluorescent, and histomorphometric analyses of tumor-reactive lymphadenopathy and lymphangiogenesis in tumor-associated LNs. We investigated the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C and its receptor, VEGF receptor-3 (VEGFR-3), in tumor cells and tissues, and LNs by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and immunofluorescence.
Tumor-associated LNs comprised sentinel LNs (SLNs) before and after tumor cell invasion (tumor-bearing SLNs), and LNs adjacent or contralateral to tumor-bearing SLNs. Extensive lymphangiogenesis appeared in SLNs before evidence of metastasis. After metastasis was established in SLNs, both LNs adjacent and contralateral to tumor-bearing SLNs demonstrated lymphangiogenesis. Interaction between VEGF-C-positive melanoma cells and VEGFR-3-positive lymphatic vessels was evident in tumor-associated LNs.
LN lymphangiogenesis contributes a progression of tumor metastasis from SLNs to other regional LNs.
Sentinel lymph node; Tumor-bearing lymph node; Oral melanoma; Lymphangioegnesis; Lymphatic metastasis
An association between lymph node metastasis and poor prognosis in breast cancer was observed decades ago. However, the mechanisms by which tumor cells infiltrate the lymphatic system are not completely understood. Recently, it has been proposed that the lymphatic system has an active role in metastatic dissemination and that tumor-secreted growth factors stimulate lymphangiogenesis. We therefore investigated whether SIX1, a homeodomain-containing transcription factor previously associated in breast cancer with lymph node positivity, was involved in lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis. In a model in which human breast cancer cells were injected into immune-compromised mice, we found that SIX1 expression promoted peritumoral and intratumoral lymphangiogenesis, lymphatic invasion, and distant metastasis of breast cancer cells. SIX1 induced transcription of the prolymphangiogenic factor VEGF-C, and this was required for lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis. Using a mouse mammary carcinoma model, we found that VEGF-C was not sufficient to mediate all the metastatic effects of SIX1, indicating that SIX1 acts through additional, VEGF-C–independent pathways. Finally, we verified the clinical significance of this prometastatic SIX1/VEGF-C axis by demonstrating coexpression of SIX1 and VEGF-C in human breast cancer. These data define a critical role for SIX1 in lymphatic dissemination of breast cancer cells, providing a direct mechanistic explanation for how VEGF-C expression is upregulated in breast cancer, resulting in lymphangiogenesis and metastasis.
The mechanisms of tumor metastasis to the sentinel lymph nodes are poorly understood. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A plays a principle role in tumor progression and angiogenesis; however, its role in tumor-associated lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis has remained unclear. We created transgenic mice that overexpress VEGF-A and green fluorescent protein specifically in the skin, and subjected them to a standard chemically-induced skin carcinogenesis regimen. We found that VEGF-A not only strongly promotes multistep skin carcinogenesis, but also induces active proliferation of VEGF receptor-2–expressing tumor-associated lymphatic vessels as well as tumor metastasis to the sentinel and distant lymph nodes. The lymphangiogenic activity of VEGF-A–expressing tumor cells was maintained within metastasis-containing lymph nodes. The most surprising finding of our study was that even before metastasizing, VEGF-A–overexpressing primary tumors induced sentinel lymph node lymphangiogenesis. This suggests that primary tumors might begin preparing their future metastatic site by producing lymphangiogenic factors that mediate their efficient transport to sentinel lymph nodes. This newly identified mechanism of inducing lymph node lymphangiogenesis likely contributes to tumor metastasis, and therefore, represents a new therapeutic target for advanced cancer and/or for the prevention of metastasis.