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1.  Relationships Between Lymphangiogenesis and Angiogenesis During Inflammation in Rat Mesentery Microvascular Networks 
Lymphatic Research and Biology  2012;10(4):198-207.
Lymphatic and blood microvascular systems play a coordinated role in the regulation of interstitial fluid balance and immune cell trafficking during inflammation. The objective of this study was to characterize the temporal and spatial relationships between lymphatic and blood vessel growth in the adult rat mesentery following an inflammatory stimulus.
Methods and Results
Mesenteric tissues were harvested from unstimulated adult male Wistar rats and at 3, 10, and 30 days post compound 48/80 stimulation. Tissues were immunolabeled for PECAM, LYVE-1, Prox1, podoplanin, CD11b, and class III β-tubulin. Vascular area, capillary blind end density, and vascular length density were quantified for each vessel system per time point. Blood vascular area increased compared to unstimulated tissues by day 10 and remained increased at day 30. Following the peak in blood capillary sprouting at day 3, blood vascular area and density increased at day 10. The number of blind-ended lymphatic vessels and lymphatic density did not significantly increase until day 10, and lymphatic vascular area was not increased compared to the unstimulated level until day 30. Lymphangiogenesis correlated with the upregulation of class III β-tubulin expression by endothelial cells along lymphatic blind-ended vessels and increased lymphatic/blood endothelial cell connections. In local tissue regions containing both blood and lymphatic vessels, the presence of lymphatics attenuated blood capillary sprouting.
Our work suggests that lymphangiogenesis lags angiogenesis during inflammation and motivates the need for future investigations aimed at understanding lymphatic/blood endothelial cell interactions. The results also indicate that lymphatic endothelial cells undergo phenotypic changes during lymphangiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3525890  PMID: 23240958
2.  VEGF-C Induces Lymphangiogenesis and Angiogenesis in the Rat Mesentery Culture Model 
Lymphatic and blood microvascular systems are critical for tissue function. Insights into the coordination of both systems can be gained by investigating the relationships between lymphangiogenesis and angiogenesis. Recently, our laboratory established the rat mesentery culture model as a novel tool to investigate multicellular interactions during angiogenesis in an intact microvascular network scenario. The objective of this study was to determine whether the rat mesentery culture model can be used to study lymphangiogenesis.
Mesenteric tissue windows were harvested from adult male Wistar rats and cultured for 3 or 5 days in either serum-free minimum essential media (MEM) or MEM supplemented with VEGF-C. Tissues were immunolabeled for PECAM and LYVE-1 to identify blood and lymphatic endothelial cells, respectively. Tissues selected randomly from those containing vascular networks were quantified for angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis.
VEGF-C treatment resulted in an increase in the density of blood vessel sprouting compared to controls by day 3. By day 5, lymphatic sprouting was increased compared to controls.
These results are consistent with in vivo findings that lymphangiogenesis lags angiogenesis after chronic stimulation and establish a tool for investigating the interrelationships between lymphangiogenesis and angiogenesis in a multi-system microvascular environment.
PMCID: PMC4126871  PMID: 24654984
Lymphangiogenesis; angiogenesis; microcirculation; microvascular network
3.  Periostin Directly and Indirectly Promotes Tumor Lymphangiogenesis of Head and Neck Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e44488.
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.
PMCID: PMC3431354  PMID: 22952986
4.  Lymphatic vessels assessment in feline mammary tumours 
BMC Cancer  2007;7:7.
The lymphatic vessels play a crucial role in a variety of human cancers since tumour cell lymphatic invasion significantly influences prognosis. It is not known if pre-existing lymphatics are enough for tumour dissemination or de novo development is necessary. VEGFR-3 is an angiogenetic mediator for both lymphatic and blood vessels during embryonic development, and only for lymphatics after birth. VEGF is a mediator of both vasculogenesis and angiogenesis, regulates the growth of lymphatics in various experimental models, and is produced in many solid tumours. CD44 mediates hyaluronic acid (HA)-dependent cell adhesion: besides promoting invasion, this interaction also supports neoangiogenesis that indirectly stimulates tumour cell proliferation. The expression of VEGF-C (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor – C), its receptor VEGFR-3 and CD44, were studied on feline mammary samples to assess the importance of lymphangiogenesis and lymphangiotrophism in neoplasia.
Samples were taken from six normal mammary glands (NMG), ten benign (BT) and 32 malignant (MT) tumours. Immunohistochemical laminin/VEGFR-3 double stain, VEGF-C and CD44 stains were applied to 4 μm-thick sections, and their expression evaluated in intratumoral/extratumoral and intramammary/extramammary fields.
All groups revealed a higher number of lymphatics in the extratumoral/extramammary areas. VEGF-C expression in the epithelium paralleled the number of positive vessels in the NMG, BT and MT, whereas VEGF-C higher expression was noted in the intratumoral fields only in infiltrating MT. CD44 score was lower in extratumoral than intratumoral fields in tumours and showed a significant increase in extramammary/extratumoral fields from NMG to MT. Pearson test showed a significant and inversely proportional correlation between CD44 expression and the number of lymphatic vessels with VEGFR-3 in malignant infiltrating tumours.
The number of both VEGFR-3 positive and negative lymphatics in the extratumoral and extramammary stroma was significantly higher than intratumoral and intramammary fields respectively in the NMG, BT and MT. This suggests a scant biological importance of intratumoral lymphatics while their higher number is due to the concentration of existing vessels following compression of the extratumoral stroma in spite of a non demonstrable increase from NMG to MT. The tumour model employed provided no evidence of lymphangiogenesis, and metastasis in the regional lymph node develops following the spread through the pre-existing lymphatic network.
PMCID: PMC1783859  PMID: 17222331
5.  Vascular Permeability Factor/Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Induces Lymphangiogenesis as well as Angiogenesis 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2002;196(11):1497-1506.
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.
PMCID: PMC2194262  PMID: 12461084
6.  Characterization of lymphangiogenesis in a model of adult skin regeneration 
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.
PMCID: PMC2751590  PMID: 16648194
lymphatic; vasculogenesis; interstitial fluid flow; matrix metalloproteinase-9; perlecan
7.  Digging deeper into lymphatic vessel formation in vitro and in vivo 
BMC Cell Biology  2011;12:29.
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.
PMCID: PMC3141733  PMID: 21702933
8.  Distinct vascular endothelial growth factor signals for lymphatic vessel enlargement and sprouting 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2007;204(6):1431-1440.
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.
PMCID: PMC2118625  PMID: 17535974
9.  AIP1 mediates VEGFR-3-dependent angiogenic and lymphangiogenic responses 
To investigate the novel function of AIP1 in VEGFR-3 signaling, and VEGFR-3-dependent angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis.
AIP1, a signaling scaffold protein, is highly expressed in the vascular endothelium. We have previously reported that AIP1 functions as an endogenous inhibitor in pathological angiogenesis by blocking VEGFR-2 activity. Surprisingly, here we observe that mice with a global deletion of AIP1 (AIP1-KO) exhibit reduced retinal angiogenesis with less sprouting and fewer branches. Vascular endothelial cell (but not neuronal)-specific deletion of AIP1 causes similar defects in retinal angiogenesis. The reduced retinal angiogenesis correlates with reduced expression in VEGFR-3 despite increased VEGFR-2 levels in AIP1-KO retinas. Consistent with the reduced expression of VEGFR-3, AIP1-KO mice show delayed developmental lymphangiogenesis in neonatal skin and mesentery, and mount weaker VEGF-C-induced cornea lymphangiogenesis. In vitro, human lymphatic EC with AIP1 siRNA knockdown, retinal EC and lymphatic EC isolated from AIP1-KO all show attenuated VEGF-C-induced VEGFR-3 signaling. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that AIP1 via vegfr-3-specific miR-1236 increases VEGFR-3 protein expression, and by directly binding to VEGFR-3 enhances VEGFR-3 endocytosis and stability.
Our in vivo and in vitro results provide the first insight into the mechanism by which AIP1 mediates VEGFR-3-dependent angiogenic and lymphangiogenic signaling.
PMCID: PMC3952062  PMID: 24407031
AIP1; VEGF; VEGFR-2; VEGFR-3; lymphangiogenesis; vascular biology
10.  Overexpression of both VEGF-A and VEGF-C in gastric cancer correlates with prognosis, and silencing of both is effective to inhibit cancer growth 
Background: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A and VEGF-C are two important molecules involving in tumor development and metastasis via angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis. However, the combined effect of VEGF-A and VEGF-C on the growth of gastric cancer (GC) is not clear. Methods: The correlations of VEGF-A and VEGF-C expressions with clinicopathologic parameters and prognosis were evaluated in patients with GC. Furthermore, lentivirus-mediated RNA interfering (RNAi) targeting VEGF-A and/or VEGF-C was employed to silence their expressions in SGC7901 GC cell line. Cell proliferation and apoptosis were measured in vitro. Suppressive effect lentivirus-mediated VEGF-A and/or VEGF-C silencing on GC growth was evaluated in GC bearing mice. Results: The patients with high expression of both VEGF-A and VEGF-C (A+C+) had larger tumor size, higher peritumoral lymphatic vessel density(P-LVD), microvessel density(MVD), lymphatic vessel invasion (LVI), lymph node(LN) metastasis, and worse prognosis than those with low expression of both VEGF-A and VEGF-C (P<0.05). Lentivirus-mediated RNAi significantly reduced the mRNA and protein expression of VEGF-A and VEGF-C in the SGC7901 cells. The Lenti-miRNA-VEGF-A+VEGF-C significantly inhibited the cell proliferation and tumor growth, compared with Lenti-miRNA-VEGF-A or Lenti-miRNA-VEGF-C (P<0.05). In addition, Lenti-miRNA- VEGF-A+VEGF-C markedly lowered the tumor size in vivo in comparison with Lenti-miRNA-VEGF-A or Lenti-miRNA–VEGF-C (P<0.05). Conclusion: Expressions of both VEGF-A and VEGF-C predict worse prognosis of GC patients. Combined silencing of VEGF-A and VEGF-C markedly suppresses cancer growth than silencing of VEGF-A or VEGF-C. Thus, to inhibit the expressions of VEGF-A and VEGF-C may become a novel strategy for the treatment of GC.
PMCID: PMC3606848  PMID: 23573305
Vascular endothelial growth factor-A; vascular endothelial growth factor-C; tumor growth; prognosis; gastric cancer
11.  Coexpression of VEGF-C and COX-2 and its association with lymphangiogenesis in human breast cancer 
BMC Cancer  2008;8:4.
Lymphangiogenesis has become a new research frontier in tumor metastasis since the discovery of reliable lymphatic markers that have allowed observation and isolation of lymphatic endothelium. Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) has been reported to be involved in the critical steps in carcinogenesis. However, possible role of COX-2 in lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis is still poorly understood. In present study, we aimed to investigate the relationship between vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) and COX-2 in human breast cancer, and correlations with lymphangiogenesis and prognosis.
Tissue samples of primary tumors from 70 patients undergoing intentionally curative surgical resections for breast cancer were immunohistochemically examined for VEGF-C, COX-2, and D2-40 expressions. The association between COX-2 and VEGF-C expressions and clinicopathological parameters as well as prognosis were analysised. To demonstrate the presence of proliferating lymphatic endothelial cells, 10 random cases with high LVD counts were selected for D2-40/Ki-67 double immunostaining.
A significant correlation was found between the expression of VEGF-C and COX-2 (r = 0.529, P < 0.001), and both elevated VEGF-C expression and elevated COX-2 expression were associated with higher lymph vessel density (LVD), lymph node metastasis and D2-40 positive lymphatic invasion (LVI) as well as worse disease free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS) in a univariate analysis. In the double immunostain for the lymph vessel marker D2-40 and the proliferation marker Ki-67, the results confirmed Ki-67-positive nuclei in a proportion of lymph vessel endothelial cells.
There is indeed lymphangiogenesis in breast cancer, the most compelling evidence being the presence of proliferating lymphatic endothelial cells. VEGF-C and COX-2 are coexpressed and significantly associated with lymphangiogenesis and prognosis in invasive breast cancer. Suggesting COX-2 may up-regulate VEGF-C expression and thus promote lymph node metastasis via lymphangiogenesis pathway in human breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC2253544  PMID: 18190720
12.  Soluble vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-3 suppresses lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis in bladder cancer 
Molecular Cancer  2011;10:36.
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.
PMCID: PMC3080348  PMID: 21481239
13.  Tumour lymphangiogenesis is a possible predictor of sentinel lymph node status in cutaneous melanoma: a case–control study 
Journal of Clinical Pathology  2006;59(2):166-173.
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.
PMCID: PMC1860322  PMID: 16443733
D2‐40; lymphangiogenesis; melanoma, vascular endothelial growth factor C; sentinel lymph node
14.  An In Vivo Method to Quantify Lymphangiogenesis in Zebrafish 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45240.
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.
PMCID: PMC3441694  PMID: 23028871
15.  A Novel Tumor-Promoting Function Residing in the 5′ Non-coding Region of vascular endothelial growth factor mRNA 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e94.
Vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF) is one of the key regulators of tumor development, hence it is considered to be an important therapeutic target for cancer treatment. However, clinical trials have suggested that anti-VEGF monotherapy was less effective than standard chemotherapy. On the basis of the evidence, we hypothesized that vegf mRNA may have unrecognized function(s) in cancer cells.
Methods and Findings
Knockdown of VEGF with vegf-targeting small-interfering (si) RNAs increased susceptibility of human colon cancer cell line (HCT116) to apoptosis caused with 5-fluorouracil, etoposide, or doxorubicin. Recombinant human VEGF165 did not completely inhibit this apoptosis. Conversely, overexpression of VEGF165 increased resistance to anti-cancer drug-induced apoptosis, while an anti-VEGF165-neutralizing antibody did not completely block the resistance. We prepared plasmids encoding full-length vegf mRNA with mutation of signal sequence, vegf mRNAs lacking untranslated regions (UTRs), or mutated 5′UTRs. Using these plasmids, we revealed that the 5′UTR of vegf mRNA possessed anti-apoptotic activity. The 5′UTR-mediated activity was not affected by a protein synthesis inhibitor, cycloheximide. We established HCT116 clones stably expressing either the vegf 5′UTR or the mutated 5′UTR. The clones expressing the 5′UTR, but not the mutated one, showed increased anchorage-independent growth in vitro and formed progressive tumors when implanted in athymic nude mice. Microarray and quantitative real-time PCR analyses indicated that the vegf 5′UTR-expressing tumors had up-regulated anti-apoptotic genes, multidrug-resistant genes, and growth-promoting genes, while pro-apoptotic genes were down-regulated. Notably, expression of signal transducers and activators of transcription 1 (STAT1) was markedly repressed in the 5′UTR-expressing tumors, resulting in down-regulation of a STAT1-responsive cluster of genes (43 genes). As a result, the tumors did not respond to interferon (IFN)α therapy at all. We showed that stable silencing of endogenous vegf mRNA in HCT116 cells enhanced both STAT1 expression and IFNα responses.
These findings suggest that cancer cells have a survival system that is regulated by vegf mRNA and imply that both vegf mRNA and its protein may synergistically promote the malignancy of tumor cells. Therefore, combination of anti-vegf transcript strategies, such as siRNA-based gene silencing, with anti-VEGF antibody treatment may improve anti-cancer therapies that target VEGF.
Shigetada Teshima-Kondo and colleagues find that cancer cells have a survival system that is regulated by vegf mRNA and that vegf mRNA and its protein may synergistically promote the malignancy of tumor cells.
Editors' Summary
Normally, throughout life, cell division (which produces new cells) and cell death are carefully balanced to keep the body in good working order. But sometimes cells acquire changes (mutations) in their genetic material that allow them to divide uncontrollably to form cancers—disorganized masses of cells. When a cancer is small, it uses the body's existing blood supply to get the oxygen and nutrients it needs for its growth and survival. But, when it gets bigger, it has to develop its own blood supply. This process is called angiogenesis. It involves the release by the cancer cells of proteins called growth factors that bind to other proteins (receptors) on the surface of endothelial cells (the cells lining blood vessels). The receptors then send signals into the endothelial cells that tell them to make new blood vessels. One important angiogenic growth factor is “vascular endothelial growth factor” (VEGF). Tumors that make large amounts of VEGF tend to be more abnormal and more aggressive than those that make less VEGF. In addition, high levels of VEGF in the blood are often associated with poor responses to chemotherapy, drug regimens designed to kill cancer cells.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because VEGF is a key regulator of tumor development, several anti-VEGF therapies—drugs that target VEGF and its receptors—have been developed. These therapies strongly suppress the growth of tumor cells in the laboratory and in animals but, when used alone, are no better at increasing the survival times of patients with cancer than standard chemotherapy. Scientists are now looking for an explanation for this disappointing result. Like all proteins, cells make VEGF by “transcribing” its DNA blueprint into an mRNA copy (vegf mRNA), the coding region of which is “translated” into the VEGF protein. Other, “noncoding” regions of vegf mRNA control when and where VEGF is made. Scientists have recently discovered that the noncoding regions of some mRNAs suppress tumor development. In this study, therefore, the researchers investigate whether vegf mRNA has an unrecognized function in tumor cells that could explain the disappointing clinical results of anti-VEGF therapeutics.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first used a technique called small interfering (si) RNA knockdown to stop VEGF expression in human colon cancer cells growing in dishes. siRNAs are short RNAs that bind to and destroy specific mRNAs in cells, thereby preventing the translation of those mRNAs into proteins. The treatment of human colon cancer cells with vegf-targeting siRNAs made the cells more sensitive to chemotherapy-induced apoptosis (a type of cell death). This sensitivity was only partly reversed by adding VEGF to the cells. By contrast, cancer cells engineered to make more vegf mRNA had increased resistance to chemotherapy-induced apoptosis. Treatment of these cells with an antibody that inhibited VEGF function did not completely block this resistance. Together, these results suggest that both vegf mRNA and VEGF protein have anti-apoptotic effects. The researchers show that the anti-apoptotic activity of vegf mRNA requires a noncoding part of the mRNA called the 5′ UTR, and that whereas human colon cancer cells expressing this 5′ UTR form tumors in mice, cells expressing a mutated 5′ UTR do not. Finally, they report that the expression of several pro-apoptotic genes and of an anti-tumor pathway known as the interferon/STAT1 tumor suppression pathway is down-regulated in tumors that express the vegf 5′ UTR.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that some cancer cells have a survival system that is regulated by vegf mRNA and are the first to show that a 5′UTR of mRNA can promote tumor growth. They indicate that VEGF and its mRNA work together to promote their development and to increase their resistance to chemotherapy drugs. They suggest that combining therapies that prevent the production of vegf mRNA (for example, siRNA-based gene silencing) with therapies that block the function of VEGF might improve survival times for patients whose tumors overexpress VEGF.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is discussed further in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Hughes and Jones
The US National Cancer Institute provides information about all aspects of cancer, including information on angiogenesis, and on bevacizumab, an anti-VEGF therapeutic (in English and Spanish)
CancerQuest, from Emory University, provides information on all aspects of cancer, including angiogenesis (in several languages)
Cancer Research UK also provides basic information about what causes cancers and how they develop, grow, and spread, including information about angiogenesis
Wikipedia has pages on VEGF and on siRNA (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC2386836  PMID: 18494554
16.  Role of tumor associated macrophages in tumor angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis 
Tumor angiogenesis is an essential process for supplying rapidly growing malignant tissues with essential nutrients and oxygen. An angiogenic switch allows tumor cells to survive and grow, and provides them access to vasculature resulting in metastatic disease. Monocyte-derived macrophages recruited and reprogrammed by tumor cells serve as a major source of angiogenic factors boosting the angiogenic switch. Tumor endothelium releases angiopoietin-2 and further facilitates recruitment of TIE2 receptor expressing monocytes (TEM) into tumor sites. Tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) sense hypoxia in avascular areas of tumors, and react by production of angiogenic factors such as VEGFA. VEGFA stimulates chemotaxis of endothelial cells (EC) and macrophages. In some tumors, TAM appeared to be a major source of MMP9. Elevated expression of MMP9 by TAM mediates extracellular matrix (ECM) degradation and the release of bioactive VEGFA. Other angiogenic factors released by TAM include basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), thymidine phosphorylase (TP), urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA), and adrenomedullin (ADM). The same factors used by macrophages for the induction of angiogenesis [like vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) and MMP9] support lymphangiogenesis. TAM can express LYVE-1, one of the established markers of lymphatic endothelium. TAM support tumor lymphangiogenesis not only by secretion of pro-lymphangiogenic factors but also by trans-differentiation into lymphatic EC. New pro-angiogenic factor YKL-40 belongs to a family of mammalian chitinase-like proteins (CLP) that act as cytokines or growth factors. Human CLP family comprises YKL-40, YKL-39, and SI-CLP. Production of all three CLP in macrophages is antagonistically regulated by cytokines. It was recently established that YKL-40 induces angiogenesis in vitro and in animal tumor models. YKL-40-neutralizing monoclonal antibody blocks tumor angiogenesis and progression. The role of YKL-39 and SI-CLP in tumor angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis remains to be investigated.
PMCID: PMC3942647  PMID: 24634660
tumor-associated macrophages; TIE2 receptor; VEGF; LYVE-1; stabilin-1; chitinase-like protein
17.  Pathogenesis of persistent lymphatic vessel hyperplasia in chronic airway inflammation 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2005;115(2):247-257.
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.
PMCID: PMC544601  PMID: 15668734
18.  Atypical E2fs Control Lymphangiogenesis through Transcriptional Regulation of Ccbe1 and Flt4 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73693.
Lymphatic vessels are derived from venous endothelial cells and their formation is governed by the Vascular endothelial growth factor C (VegfC)/Vegf receptor 3 (Vegfr3; Flt4) signaling pathway. Recent studies show that Collagen and Calcium Binding EGF domains 1 protein (Ccbe1) enhances VegfC-dependent lymphangiogenesis. Both Ccbe1 and Flt4 have been shown to be indispensable for lymphangiogenesis. However, how these essential players are transcriptionally regulated remains poorly understood. In the case of angiogenesis, atypical E2fs (E2f7 and E2f8) however have been recently shown to function as transcriptional activators for VegfA. Using a genome-wide approach we here identified both CCBE1 and FLT4 as direct targets of atypical E2Fs. E2F7/8 directly bind and stimulate the CCBE1 promoter, while recruitment of E2F7/8 inhibits the FLT4 promoter. Importantly, inactivation of e2f7/8 in zebrafish impaired venous sprouting and lymphangiogenesis with reduced ccbe1 expression and increased flt4 expression. Remarkably, over-expression of e2f7/8 rescued Ccbe1- and Flt4-dependent lymphangiogenesis phenotypes. Together these results identified E2f7/8 as novel in vivo transcriptional regulators of Ccbe1 and Flt4, both essential genes for venous sprouting and lymphangiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3771987  PMID: 24069224
19.  The Presence of VEGF Receptors on the Luminal Surface of Endothelial Cells Affects VEGF Distribution and VEGF Signaling 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(12):e1000622.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent cytokine that binds to specific receptors on the endothelial cells lining blood vessels. The signaling cascade triggered eventually leads to the formation of new capillaries, a process called angiogenesis. Distributions of VEGF receptors and VEGF ligands are therefore crucial determinants of angiogenic events and, to our knowledge, no quantification of abluminal vs. luminal receptors has been performed. We formulate a molecular-based compartment model to investigate the VEGF distribution in blood and tissue in humans and show that such quantification would lead to new insights on angiogenesis and VEGF-dependent diseases. Our multiscale model includes two major isoforms of VEGF (VEGF121 and VEGF165), as well as their receptors (VEGFR1 and VEGFR2) and the non-signaling co-receptor neuropilin-1 (NRP1). VEGF can be transported between tissue and blood via transendothelial permeability and the lymphatics. VEGF receptors are located on both the luminal and abluminal sides of the endothelial cells. In this study, we analyze the effects of the VEGF receptor localization on the endothelial cells as well as of the lymphatic transport. We show that the VEGF distribution is affected by the luminal receptor density. We predict that the receptor signaling occurs mostly on the abluminal endothelial surface, assuming that VEGF is secreted by parenchymal cells. However, for a low abluminal but high luminal receptor density, VEGF binds predominantly to VEGFR1 on the abluminal surface and VEGFR2 on the luminal surface. Such findings would be pertinent to pathological conditions and therapies related to VEGF receptor imbalance and overexpression on the endothelial cells and will hopefully encourage experimental receptor quantification for both luminal and abluminal surfaces on endothelial cells.
Author Summary
Angiogenesis is the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vasculature that occurs in physiological (e.g., exercise) and pathological contexts (e.g., cancer). This process is often triggered by a signaling cascade that occurs upon ligand-receptor binding between vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its receptors (VEGFR1/Flt-1, VEGFR2/KDR). These receptors are expressed by endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. Little is known about the quantitative proportion of abluminal receptors (facing the tissue) as compared to those on the luminal surface (facing the blood). We have built a compartment model with molecular details from human tissues to investigate why such experimental data would be of importance. We conclude that the receptor distribution on the endothelial cells can significantly alter the VEGF distribution and the VEGF signaling (through its binding to the receptors) and that quantification of luminal vs. abluminal VEGF receptors would shed light on VEGF signaling and VEGF-dependent mechanisms of angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2790341  PMID: 20041209
20.  Computational Model of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Spatial Distribution in Muscle and Pro-Angiogenic Cell Therapy 
PLoS Computational Biology  2006;2(9):e127.
Members of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family of proteins are critical regulators of angiogenesis. VEGF concentration gradients are important for activation and chemotactic guidance of capillary sprouting, but measurement of these gradients in vivo is not currently possible. We have constructed a biophysically and molecularly detailed computational model to study microenvironmental transport of two isoforms of VEGF in rat extensor digitorum longus skeletal muscle under in vivo conditions. Using parameters based on experimental measurements, the model includes: VEGF secretion from muscle fibers; binding to the extracellular matrix; binding to and activation of endothelial cell surface VEGF receptors; and internalization. For 2-D cross sections of tissue, we analyzed predicted VEGF distributions, gradients, and receptor binding. Significant VEGF gradients (up to 12% change in VEGF concentration over 10 μm) were predicted in resting skeletal muscle with uniform VEGF secretion, due to non-uniform capillary distribution. These relative VEGF gradients were not sensitive to extracellular matrix composition, or to the overall VEGF expression level, but were dependent on VEGF receptor density and affinity, and internalization rate parameters. VEGF upregulation in a subset of fibers increased VEGF gradients, simulating transplantation of pro-angiogenic myoblasts, a possible therapy for ischemic diseases. The number and relative position of overexpressing fibers determined the VEGF gradients and distribution of VEGF receptor activation. With total VEGF expression level in the tissue unchanged, concentrating overexpression into a small number of adjacent fibers can increase the number of capillaries activated. The VEGF concentration gradients predicted for resting muscle (average 3% VEGF/10 μm) is sufficient for cellular sensing; the tip cell of a vessel sprout is approximately 50 μm long. The VEGF gradients also result in heterogeneity in the activation of blood vessel VEGF receptors. This first model of VEGF tissue transport and heterogeneity provides a platform for the design and evaluation of therapeutic approaches.
It is not currently possible to experimentally quantify the gradients of protein concentration in the extracellular space in vivo. However, the concentration gradients of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are essential for both initiation and directed guidance of new blood vessels. The authors develop a computational model of VEGF transport in tissue in vivo (skeletal muscle, though the method is applicable to other tissues and other proteins) with realistic geometry and including biophysical interactions of VEGF, its receptors, and the extracellular matrix. Using this model, the authors predict for the first time the distribution of VEGF concentration and VEGF receptor activation throughout the tissue. VEGF concentration gradients are significant, up to 12% change in VEGF concentration over 10 μm in resting muscle. Transplanting VEGF-overexpressing myocytes (for therapeutic induction of blood vessel growth) increases the gradients significantly. Endothelial cells in sprouting vessels are approximately 50 μm long, and therefore the predicted gradients across the cell are high and sufficient for chemotactic guidance of the new vessels. The VEGF concentration gradients also result in significant heterogeneity in the activation of VEGF receptors on blood vessels throughout the tissue, a possible reason for the sporadic nature of sprout initiation.
PMCID: PMC1570371  PMID: 17002494
21.  The role of angiogenic factors in endometrial cancer 
Endometrial cancer is the most common malignancy within the female reproductive system (37.7%). The incidence increases with age. Frequently this type of cancer is diagnosed in peri- and post-menopausal women. 60-70% of cancers occur in women over 60 years of age, and less than 5% in women below 40 years of age.
Angiogenesis is a process of formation of new microvessels from existing capillaries. There are four different mechanisms of new vessel growth: sprouting, intussusception, vessel elongation and incorporation of endothelial progenitor cells into new microvessels. Angiogenesis plays important roles in growth of endometrial cancers. This process is controlled by many angiogenic factors, for example vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF is the most powerful and most specific endothelial cell growth factor. It plays a crucial role in the initiation of physiological and pathological angiogenesis, lymphangiogenesis, and vasculogenesis. The VEGF family consists of VEGF-A, VEGF-B, VEGF-C, VEGF-D, VEGF-E, VEGF-F and PLGF (placental growth factor). The effects of VEGF are mediated through binding to the two specific and homologous receptors VEGFR-1 (FLT-1) and VEGFR-2 (KDR). Placental growth factor (PLGF) belongs to the VEGF family and it is also a very important growth factor. So far four isoforms of PLGF have been identified: PLGF-1 (PLGF131), PLGF-2 (PLGF152), PLGF-3 (PLGF203) and PLGF-4 (PLGF224).
PMCID: PMC4520350  PMID: 26327841
endometrial cancer; angiogenesis; growth factors; vascular endothelial growth factor; placental growth factor
22.  Lymphatic/Blood Endothelial Cell Connections at the Capillary Level in Adult Rat Mesentery 
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.
PMCID: PMC3000855  PMID: 20648570
Microcirculation; Angiogenesis; Lymphangiogenesis; Endothelial Cell
23.  VEGF guides angiogenic sprouting utilizing endothelial tip cell filopodia 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2003;161(6):1163-1177.
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.
PMCID: PMC2172999  PMID: 12810700
VEGF; endothelial cell; filopodia; astrocyte; migration; proliferation
24.  Hypoxia and Extracellular Matrix Proteins Influence Angiogenesis and Lymphangiogenesis in Mouse Embryoid Bodies 
Regulatory mechanisms for angiogenesis are relatively well established compared to lymphangiogenesis. Few studies have shown that a combination of vascular endothelial growth factor VEGF-A/C with hypoxia or collagen matrix promotes lymphatic structures along with blood vessel development in mouse embryoid bodies (EB). In this study we tested the hypothesis that while hypoxia combined with prolonged VEGF-A/C treatment would induce early lymphangiogenesis in addition to angiogenesis in mouse EBs, under similar conditions specific extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins would promote lymphatic vessel-like structures over angiogenesis. EBs were subjected to four conditions and were maintained under normoxia and hypoxia (21% and 2.6% O2, respectively) with or without VEGF-A/C. Microarray analyses of normoxic and hypoxic EBs, and immunofluorescence data showed very low expression of early lymphatic endothelial cell (LEC) markers, lymphatic vessel endothelial hyaluronan receptor 1 (LYVE1), and prospero-related homeobox 1 (Prox1) at early time points. Double immunofluorescence using MECA-32 and Prox1/LYVE1 demonstrated that combined hypoxia and VEGF-A/C treatment promoted formation of blood vessel-like structures, whereas only Prox1+/LYVE1+ LECs were detected in EBs at E22.5. Furthermore, EBs were grown on laminin or collagen-I coated plates and were subjected to the four treatments as described above. Results revealed that LECs in EBs at E36.5 attached better to collagen-I, resulting in an organized network of lymphatic vessel-like structures as compared to EBs grown on laminin. However, blood vessel-like structures were less favored under these same conditions. Collectively, our data demonstrate that hypoxia combined with growth factors promotes angiogenesis, whereas combination of these conditions with specific ECM proteins favors lymphangiogenesis processes in mouse EBs.
PMCID: PMC3243103  PMID: 22194726
angiogenesis; lymphangiogenesis; embryoid body; hypoxia; VEGF
25.  Sunitinib inhibits lymphatic endothelial cell functions and lymph node metastasis in a breast cancer model through inhibition of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 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.
PMCID: PMC3218955  PMID: 21693010

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