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1.  The control of alternative splicing by SRSF1 in myelinated afferents contributes to the development of neuropathic pain 
Neurobiology of Disease  2016;96:186-200.
Neuropathic pain results from neuroplasticity in nociceptive neuronal networks. Here we demonstrate that control of alternative pre-mRNA splicing, through the splice factor serine-arginine splice factor 1 (SRSF1), is integral to the processing of nociceptive information in the spinal cord.
Neuropathic pain develops following a partial saphenous nerve ligation injury, at which time SRSF1 is activated in damaged myelinated primary afferent neurons, with minimal found in small diameter (IB4 positive) dorsal root ganglia neurons. Serine arginine protein kinase 1 (SRPK1) is the principal route of SRSF1 activation. Spinal SRPK1 inhibition attenuated SRSF1 activity, abolished neuropathic pain behaviors and suppressed central sensitization. SRSF1 was principally expressed in large diameter myelinated (NF200-rich) dorsal root ganglia sensory neurons and their excitatory central terminals (vGLUT1 + ve) within the dorsal horn of the lumbar spinal cord.
Expression of pro-nociceptive VEGF-Axxxa within the spinal cord was increased after nerve injury, and this was prevented by SRPK1 inhibition. Additionally, expression of anti-nociceptive VEGF-Axxxb isoforms was elevated, and this was associated with reduced neuropathic pain behaviors. Inhibition of VEGF receptor-2 signaling in the spinal cord attenuated behavioral nociceptive responses to mechanical, heat and formalin stimuli, indicating that spinal VEGF receptor-2 activation has potent pro-nociceptive actions. Furthermore, intrathecal VEGF-A165a resulted in mechanical and heat hyperalgesia, whereas the sister inhibitory isoform VEGF-A165b resulted in anti-nociception. These results support a role for myelinated fiber pathways, and alternative pre-mRNA splicing of factors such as VEGF-A in the spinal processing of neuropathic pain. They also indicate that targeting pre-mRNA splicing at the spinal level could lead to a novel target for analgesic development.
•SRSF1 (Serine Arginine-rich Splicing Factor 1) is located in myelinated sensory afferent terminals.•Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor-A (VEGF-A) expression regulates chronic pain at the level of the spinal cord.•SRPK1 (Serine Arginine-rich Protein Kinase 1)-SRSF1 mediated alternative RNA splicing in the spinal cord modulates pain.
PMCID: PMC5113660  PMID: 27616424
VEGF-A, vascular endothelial growth factor – A; SRSF1, Serine Arginine-rich Splicing Factor 1; SRPK1, Serine Arginine-rich Protein Kinase 1; VEGFR2, vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2; PSNI, partial saphenous nerve ligation injury; VEGF-A; SRPK1; SRSF1; Myelinated; Spinal cord; Neuropathic pain
2.  Direct detection and measurement of wall shear stress using a filamentous bio-nanoparticle 
Nano research  2015;8(10):3307-3315.
The wall shear stress (WSS) that a moving fluid exerts on a surface affects many processes including those relating to vascular function. WSS plays an important role in normal physiology (e.g. angiogenesis) and affects the microvasculature’s primary function of molecular transport. Points of fluctuating WSS show abnormalities in a number of diseases; however, there is no established technique for measuring WSS directly in physiological systems. All current methods rely on estimates obtained from measured velocity gradients in bulk flow data. In this work, we report a nanosensor that can directly measure WSS in microfluidic chambers with sub-micron spatial resolution by using a specific type of virus, the bacteriophage M13, which has been fluorescently labeled and anchored to a surface. It is demonstrated that the nanosensor can be calibrated and adapted for biological tissue, revealing WSS in micro-domains of cells that cannot be calculated accurately from bulk flow measurements. This method lends itself to a platform applicable to many applications in biology and microfluidics.
PMCID: PMC4996322  PMID: 27570611
microfluidics; nanoparticle; M13 bacteriophage; wall shear stress; fluorescent microscopy
3.  Altered ratios of pro‐ and anti‐angiogenic VEGF‐A variants and pericyte expression of DLL4 disrupt vascular maturation in infantile haemangioma 
The Journal of Pathology  2016;239(2):139-151.
Infantile haemangioma (IH), the most common neoplasm in infants, is a slowly resolving vascular tumour. Vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF‐A), which consists of both the pro‐ and anti‐angiogenic variants, contributes to the pathogenesis of IH. However, the roles of different VEGF‐A variants in IH progression and its spontaneous involution is unknown. Using patient‐derived cells and surgical specimens, we showed that the relative level of VEGF‐A165b was increased in the involuting phase of IH and the relative change in VEGF‐A isoforms may be dependent on endothelial differentiation of IH stem cells. VEGFR signalling regulated IH cell functions and VEGF‐A165b inhibited cell proliferation and the angiogenic potential of IH endothelial cells in vitro and in vivo. The inhibition of angiogenesis by VEGF‐A165b was associated with the extent of VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR2) activation and degradation and Delta‐like ligand 4 (DLL4) expression. These results indicate that VEGF‐A variants can be regulated by cell differentiation and are involved in IH progression. We also demonstrated that DLL4 expression was not exclusive to the endothelium in IH but was also present in pericytes, where the expression of VEGFR2 is absent, suggesting that pericyte‐derived DLL4 may prevent sprouting during involution, independently of VEGFR2. Angiogenesis in IH therefore appears to be controlled by DLL4 within the endothelium in a VEGF‐A isoform‐dependent manner, and in perivascular cells in a VEGF‐independent manner. The contribution of VEGF‐A isoforms to disease progression also indicates that IH may be associated with altered splicing. © 2016 The Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
PMCID: PMC4869683  PMID: 26957058
haemangioma; vascular endothelial growth factor; angiogenesis; endothelial cell
4.  Therapeutic potential of manipulating VEGF splice isoforms in oncology 
Anti-angiogenic therapies currently revolve around targeting vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) or its receptors. These therapies are effective to some degree, but have low response rates and poor side-effect profiles. Part of these problems is likely to be due to their lack of specificity between pro- and anti-angiogenic isoforms, and their nonspecific effects on proactive, pleiotropic survival and maintenance roles of VEGF-A in endothelial and other cell types. An alternative approach, and one which has recently been shown to be effective in animal models of neovascularization in the eye, is to target the mechanisms by which the cell generates pro-angiogenic splice forms of VEGF-A, its receptors and, co-incidentally, by targeting the upstream processes, other oncogenes that have antagonistic splice isoforms. The concept here is to target the splicing mechanisms that control splice site choice in the VEGF-A mRNA. Recent evidence on the pharmacological possibilities of such splice factors is described.
PMCID: PMC2879319  PMID: 19519209
angiogenesis; anti-angiogenic; cancer; eye disease; splicing; VEGF; VEGF165b
Oncogene  2014;34(33):4311-4319.
Angiogenesis is required for tumour growth and is induced principally by VEGF-A. VEGF-A pre-mRNA is alternatively spliced at the terminal exon to produce two families of isoforms, pro- and anti-angiogenic, only the former of which is upregulated in prostate cancer. In renal epithelial cells and colon cancer cells, the choice of VEGF splice isoforms is controlled by the splicing factor SRSF1, phosphorylated by SRPK1. Immunohistochemistry staining of human samples revealed a significant increase in SRPK1 expression both in prostate intra-epithelial neoplasia lesions as well as malignant adenocarcinoma compared to benign prostate tissue. We therefore tested the hypothesis that the selective upregulation of pro-angiogenic VEGF in prostate cancer may be under the control of SRPK1 activity. A switch in the expression of VEGF165 towards the anti-angiogenic splice isoform, VEGF165b, was seen in PC-3 cells with SRPK1 knock-down (KD). PC-3 SRPK1-KD cells resulted in tumours that grew more slowly in xenografts, with decreased microvessel density. No effect was seen as a result of SRPK1-KD on growth, proliferation, migration and invasion capabilities of PC-3 cells in vitro. Small molecule inhibitors of SRPK1 switched splicing towards the anti-angiogenic isoform VEGF165b in PC3 cells and decreased tumour growth when administered intraperitoneally in an orthotopic mouse model of prostate cancer. Our study suggests that modulation of SRPK1 and subsequent inhibition of tumour angiogenesis by regulation of VEGF splicing can alter prostate tumour growth and supports further studies into the use of SRPK1 inhibition as a potential anti-angiogenic therapy in prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC4351909  PMID: 25381816
prostate cancer; angiogenesis; VEGF alternative splicing; SRPK1
6.  LGR5 regulates pro-survival MEK/ERK and proliferative Wnt/β-catenin signalling in neuroblastoma 
Oncotarget  2015;6(37):40053-40067.
LGR5 is a marker of normal and cancer stem cells in various tissues where it functions as a receptor for R-spondins and increases canonical Wnt signalling amplitude. Here we report that LGR5 is also highly expressed in a subset of high grade neuroblastomas. Neuroblastoma is a clinically heterogenous paediatric cancer comprising a high proportion of poor prognosis cases (~40%) which are frequently lethal. Unlike many cancers, Wnt pathway mutations are not apparent in neuroblastoma, although previous microarray analyses have implicated deregulated Wnt signalling in high-risk neuroblastoma. We demonstrate that LGR5 facilitates high Wnt signalling in neuroblastoma cell lines treated with Wnt3a and R-spondins, with SK-N-BE(2)-C, SK-N-NAS and SH-SY5Y cell-lines all displaying strong Wnt induction. These lines represent MYCN-amplified, NRAS and ALK mutant neuroblastoma subtypes respectively. Wnt3a/R-Spondin treatment also promoted nuclear translocation of β-catenin, increased proliferation and activation of Wnt target genes. Strikingly, short-interfering RNA mediated knockdown of LGR5 induces dramatic Wnt-independent apoptosis in all three cell-lines, accompanied by greatly diminished phosphorylation of mitogen/extracellular signal-regulated kinases (MEK1/2) and extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2), and an increase of BimEL, an apoptosis facilitator downstream of ERK. Akt signalling is also decreased by a Rictor dependent, PDK1-independent mechanism. LGR5 expression is cell cycle regulated and LGR5 depletion triggers G1 cell-cycle arrest, increased p27 and decreased phosphorylated retinoblastoma protein. Our study therefore characterises new cancer-associated pathways regulated by LGR5, and suggest that targeting of LGR5 may be of therapeutic benefit for neuroblastomas with diverse etiologies, as well as other cancers expressing high LGR5.
PMCID: PMC4741879  PMID: 26517508
neuroblastoma; LGR5; Wnt/β-catenin; MEK/ERK; cell survival
7.  Anti-Angiogenic Actions of VEGF-A165b, an Inhibitory Isoform of VEGF-A, in Human Obesity 
Circulation  2014;130(13):1072-1080.
Experimental studies suggest that visceral adiposity and adipose tissue dysfunction play a central role in obesity-related cardiometabolic complications. Impaired angiogenesis in fat has been implicated in the development of adipose tissue hypoxia, capillary rarefaction, inflammation, and metabolic dysregulation, but pathophysiological mechanisms remain unknown. In this study, we examined the role of a novel anti-angiogenic isoform of vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A), VEGF-A165b, in human obesity.
Methods and Results
We biopsied paired subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue in 40 obese subjects (BMI 45±8 kg/m2, age 45±11 yr) during bariatric surgery and characterized depot-specific adipose tissue angiogenic capacity using an established ex vivo assay. Visceral adipose tissue exhibited significantly blunted angiogenic growth compared to subcutaneous fat (p<0.001) which was associated with marked tissue up-regulation of VEGF-A165b (p=0.004). Extent of VEGF-A165b expression correlated negatively with angiogenic growth (r= -0.6, p=0.006). While recombinant VEGF-A165b significantly impaired angiogenesis, targeted inhibition of VEGF-A165b with neutralizing antibody stimulated fat pad neovascularization and restored VEGF receptor activation. Blood levels of VEGF-A165b were significantly higher in obese subjects compared to lean controls (p=0.02), and surgical weight loss induced a marked decline in serumVEGF-A165b (p=0.003).
We demonstrate that impaired adipose tissue angiogenesis is associated with over- expression of a novel anti-angiogenic factor VEGF-A165b that may play a pathogenic role in human adiposopathy. Moreover, systemic up-regulation of VEGF-A165b in circulating blood may have wider ranging implications beyond the adipose milieu. VEGF-A165b may represent a novel area of investigation to gain further understanding of mechanisms that modulate cardiometabolic consequences of obesity.
PMCID: PMC4175289  PMID: 25116954
Obesity; VEGF-A; VEGF-A165b; angiogenesis; visceral fat; metabolism
8.  Topical Antiangiogenic SRPK1 Inhibitors Reduce Choroidal Neovascularization in Rodent Models of Exudative AMD 
Exudative AMD (wet AMD) is treated by monthly injection into the eye of anti-VEGF proteins. VEGF is alternatively spliced to produce numerous isoforms that differ in angiogenic activity. Serine-rich protein kinase-1 (SRPK1) has been identified as a regulator of pro-angiogenic VEGF splicing by phosphorylating serine-rich splicing factor-1 (SRSF1), which binds to VEGF pre-mRNA. We tested the hypothesis that topical (eye drop) SRPK1-selective inhibitors could be generated that reduce pro-angiogenic isoforms, and prevent choroidal neovascularization in vivo.
Novel inhibitors were tested for SRPK inhibition in vitro, pro-angiogenic VEGF production in RPE cells by PCR and ELISA, and for inhibition of choroidal neovascularisation in mice and rats.
A novel disubstituted furan inhibitor was selective for the SRPK family of kinases and reduced expression of pro-angiogenic but not antiangiogenic VEGF isoforms. This inhibitor and previously identified SRPK inhibitors significantly reduced choroidal neovascularisation in vivo. Topical administration of SRPK inhibitors dose-dependently blocked CNV with an EC50 of 9 μM.
These results indicate that novel SRPK1 selective inhibitors could be a potentially novel topical (eye drop) therapeutic for wet AMD.
Exudative AMD results from excess angiogenic VEGF production. Switching VEGF splicing to the antiangiogenic isoforms by inhibiting serine-rich protein kinase-1 (SRPK1) can be achieved by topical application of novel SRPK1 inhibitors. This could result in novel treatments that do not require injection in wet AMD.
PMCID: PMC3771558  PMID: 23887803
VEGF; splicing; AMD
9.  An anti-angiogenic isoform of VEGF-A contributes to impaired vascularization in peripheral artery disease 
Nature medicine  2014;20(12):1464-1471.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) generates tissue ischemia through arterial occlusions and insufficient collateral vessel formation. Vascular insufficiency in PAD occurs despite higher circulating levels of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A),1,2 a key regulator of angiogenesis. Here, we show that clinical PAD is associated with elevated anti-angiogenic VEGF-A splice isoform (VEGF-A165b), and a corresponding reduction of the pro-angiogenic VEGF-A165a isoform. In a murine model of PAD, VEGF-A165b was upregulated by conditions associated with impaired limb revascularization, including leptin-deficiency, diet-induced obesity, genetic ablation of the secreted frizzled-related protein 5 (Sfrp5) adipokine and transgenic overexpression of Wnt5a in myeloid cells. In PAD models, delivery of VEGF-A165b inhibited revascularization of ischemic hind limbs, whereas treatment with an isoform-specific neutralizing antibody reversed the impaired revascularization phenotype caused by metabolic dysfunction or perturbations in the Wnt5a/Sfrp5 regulatory system. These results indicate that inflammation driven expression of the anti-angiogenic VEGF-A isoform can contribute to impaired collateralization in ischemic cardiovascular disease.
PMCID: PMC4257756  PMID: 25362254
VEGF-A165b; VEGF-Ax; alternative splicing; translational readthrough; metabolic dysfunction
10.  Circulating levels of anti-angiogenic VEGF-A isoform (VEGF-Axxxb) in colorectal cancer patients predicts tumour VEGF-A ratios 
American Journal of Cancer Research  2015;5(6):2083-2089.
Purpose: Bevacizumab as an adjunct to chemotherapy improves survival for some patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Immunohistochemical staining of samples from the registration ECOG E3200 trial of bevacizumab with FOLFOX demonstrated that only patients with carcinomas expressing low levels of VEGF-A165b, an anti-angiogenic splice variant of the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor family of proteins, benefited from bevacizumab treatment. To identify a more useful biomarker of response we tested the hypothesis that circulating VEGF-A165b levels correlate with immunohistochemical staining. Experimental Design: 17 patients with biopsy proven colorectal adenocarcinoma had pre-operative blood samples drawn. They underwent resection and had post-resection blood drawn. The plasma was analysed for levels of VEGF-Axxxb using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the tumour blocks stained for VEGF-Axxxb and pan-VEGF-A. The normalised ratio of VEGF-Axxxb expression to that of panVEGF-A expression scored by IHC was calculated and correlated with plasma VEGF-A165b levels. Results: Plasma levels of VEGF-Axxxb significantly correlated with the VEGF-Axxxb:panVEGF-A ratio (r=0.594, P<0.02) in colorectal cancers. Median plasma VEGF-Axxxb levels were 151 pg/ml. The mean (1.5±0.17) and median, IQR (1.8, 1-2) IHC scores of the patients with greater than median plasma VEGF-Axxxb were significantly greater than those with less than median plasma VEGF-Axxxb levels (mean ± SEM=0.85±10.12, median, IQR=1, 0.54-1). Conclusion: These results suggest that plasma VEGF-Axxxb levels could be an effective biomarker of response to Bevacizumab. These results indicate that a prospective trial is warranted to explore the use of plasma VEGF-Axxxb levels to stratify patients for colorectal cancer treatment by bevacizumab.
PMCID: PMC4529627  PMID: 26269767
VEGF; bevacizumab; colorectal cancer; splicing; VEGF165b
11.  TNF-α-induced ICAM-1 expression and monocyte adhesion in human RPE cells is mediated in part through autocrine VEGF stimulation 
Molecular Vision  2014;20:781-789.
Local inflammation at the RPE cell layer is associated with inflammatory cell migration and secretion of proinflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α. TNF-α upregulates intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1 expression on the RPE, which allows lymphocyte function-associated antigen-1 (LFA-1) to bind on leukocytes that contribute to leukocyte adhesion at sites of inflammation. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A165b is generated by alternative splicing of VEGF-A in the terminal exon, exon 8. VEGF-A165b is cytoprotective and antiangiogenic, but its effects on inflammation have not yet been elucidated. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that VEGF-A165b regulates TNF-α-induced ICAM-1 expression and monocyte adhesion in RPE cells.
Primary RPE cells were pretreated with TNF-α alone, VEGF-A165b alone, VEGF-A165b with anti-VEGF-A165b, or the VEGFR-2 inhibitor ZM323881 before exposure to TNF-α for 24 h. Western blotting and monocyte adhesion assays were performed.
VEGF-A165b and ZM323881 inhibited TNF-α-induced upregulation of ICAM-1 in RPE cells. The effect of VEGF-A165b was neutralized by an antibody to VEGF-A165b. VEGF-A165b ameliorated TNF-α-induced monocyte-RPE adhesion.
These findings indicate that VEGF-A165b inhibits TNF-α-mediated upregulation of ICAM-1 expression and increases monocyte-RPE cell adhesion, suggesting an anti-inflammatory property of VEGF-A165b in the eye.
PMCID: PMC4057247  PMID: 24940033
12.  Association between VEGF splice isoforms and progression free survival in metastatic colorectal cancer patients treated with bevacizumab 
Bevacizumab improves survival for metastatic colorectal cancer patients with chemotherapy, but no proven predictive markers exist. The VEGF-A splice form, VEGF165b, anti-angiogenic in animal models, binds bevacizumab. We tested the hypothesis that prolonged progression-free survival (PFS) would occur only in patients with low relative VEGF165b levels treated with bevacizumab.
Blinded tumor samples from the phase-III trial of FOLFOX4±bevacizumab were assessed for VEGF165b and VEGFtotal by immunohistochemistry and scored relative to normal tissue. A predictive index (PI) was derived from the ratio of VEGF165b:VEGFtotal for 44 samples from patients treated with FOLFOX+bevacizumab (Arm A) and 53 samples from patients treated with FOLFOX4 (Arm B), and PFS, and overall survival (OS) analysed based on PI relative to median ratio.
Unadjusted analysis of PFS showed significantly better outcome for individuals with VEGF165b:VEGFtotal ratio scores below median treated with FOLFOX4+bevacizumab compared to FOLFOX4 alone (median 8.0 months vs 5.2 months, p<0.02), but no effect of bevacizumab on PFS in patients with VEGF165b:VEGFtotal ratio >median (5.9 months vs 6.3 months). These findings held after adjustment for other clinical and demographic features. Overall survival (OS) was increased in Arm A (median 13.6 months) compared with Arm B (10.6 months) in the low VEGF165b group, but this did not reach statistical significance. There was no difference in the high VEGF165b:VEGFtotal group between FOLFOX+bevacizumab (10.8 months) and FOLFOX alone (11.3months).
Low VEGF165b:VEGFtotal ratio may be a predictive marker for bevacizumab in metastatic colorectal cancer, and individuals with high relative levels may not benefit.
PMCID: PMC3602975  PMID: 23104894
13.  Alternative splicing of TIA-1 in human colon cancer regulates VEGF isoform expression, angiogenesis, tumour growth and bevacizumab resistance 
Molecular Oncology  2015;9(1):167-178.
The angiogenic capability of colorectal carcinomas (CRC), and their susceptibility to anti-angiogenic therapy, is determined by expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) isoforms. The intracellular protein T-cell Intracellular Antigen (TIA-1) alters post-transcriptional RNA processing and binds VEGF-A mRNA. We therefore tested the hypothesis that TIA-1 could regulate VEGF-A isoform expression in colorectal cancers. TIA-1 and VEGF-A isoform expression was measured in colorectal cancers and cell lines. We discovered that an endogenous splice variant of TIA-1 encoding a truncated protein, short TIA-1 (sTIA-1) was expressed in CRC tissues and invasive K-Ras mutant colon cancer cells and tissues but not in adenoma cell lines. sTIA-1 was more highly expressed in CRC than in normal tissues and increased with tumour stage. Knockdown of sTIA-1 or over-expression of full length TIA-1 (flTIA-1) induced expression of the anti-angiogenic VEGF isoform VEGF-A165b. Whereas flTIA-1 selectively bound VEGF-A165 mRNA and increased translation of VEGF-A165b, sTIA-1 prevented this binding. In nude mice, xenografted colon cancer cells over-expressing flTIA-1 formed smaller, less vascular tumours than those expressing sTIA-1, but flTIA-1 expression inhibited the effect of anti-VEGF antibodies. These results indicate that alternative splicing of an RNA binding protein can regulate isoform specific expression of VEGF providing an added layer of complexity to the angiogenic profile of colorectal cancer and their resistance to anti-angiogenic therapy.
•K-Ras mutant colon cancers express a novel splice variant, short TIA-1 (sTIA-1).•sTIA-1 controls VEGF isoform expression, increasing angiogenic isoforms.•Reversion to full length TIA-1 (flTIA-1) is anti-angiogenic.•flTIA-1 expressing cancer cells are resistant to bevacizumab treatment.•TIA-1 splicing may be a potential biomarker for bevacizumab treatment.
PMCID: PMC4286123  PMID: 25224594
VEGF; Splicing; TIA-1; VEGF165b
14.  Novel mechanisms of resistance to vemurafenib in melanoma – V600E B-Raf reversion and switching VEGF-A splice isoform expression 
Targeting activating mutations in the proto-oncogene B-Raf, in melanoma, has led to increases in progression free survival. Treatment with vemurafenib, which inhibits the most common activating-mutated form of B-Raf (B-RafV600E), eventually results in resistance to therapy. VEGF-A is the principal driver of angiogenesis in primary and metastatic lesions. The bioactivity of VEGF-A is dependent upon alternative RNA splicing and pro-angiogenic isoforms of VEGF-A are upregulated in many disease states dependent upon angiogenesis, including cancers. Using techniques including RT-PCR, Western blotting, ELISA and luciferase reporter assays, the effect of vemurafenib on proliferation, ERK1/2 phosphorylation and the levels of pro- and anti-angiogenic VEGF-A isoforms was investigated in melanoma cell types expressing either wild-type B-Raf or B-RafV600E, including a primary melanoma culture derived from a highly vascularised and active nodule taken from a patient with a V600E mutant melanoma. The primary melanoma culture was characterised and found to have reverted to wild-type B-Raf. In B-RafV600E A375 cells ERK1/2 phosphorylation, pro-angiogenic VEGF-A mRNA, total VEGF-A protein expression and VEGF-A 3’UTR activity were all decreased in a concentration-dependent manner by vemurafenib. Conversely vemurafenib treatment of wild-type B-Raf cells significantly increased ERK1/2 phosphorylation, pro-angiogenic VEGF-A mRNA and total VEGF-A expression in a concentration-dependent manner. A switch to pro-angiogenic VEGF-A isoforms, with a concomitant upregulation of expression by increasing VEGF-A mRNA stability, may be an additional oncogenic and pathological mechanism in B-RafV600E melanomas, which promotes tumor-associated angiogenesis and melanoma-genesis. We have also identified the genetic reversal of B-RafV600E to wild-type in an active melanoma nodule taken from a V600E-positive patient and continued vemurafenib treatment for this patient is likely to have had a detrimental effect by promoting B-RafWT activity.
PMCID: PMC4300704  PMID: 25628951
Melanoma; vemurafenib; A375; 92.1; VEGF-A; VEGF-Axxxb; mechanism of resistance
15.  The carboxyl terminus of VEGF-A is a potential target for anti-angiogenic therapy 
Angiogenesis  2014;18:23-30.
Anti-VEGF-A therapy has become a mainstay of treatment for ocular neovascularisation and in cancer; however, their effectiveness is not universal, in some cases only benefiting a minority of patients. Anti-VEGF-A therapies bind and block both pro-angiogenic VEGF-Axxx and the partial agonist VEGF-Axxxb isoforms, but their anti-angiogenic benefit only comes about from targeting the pro-angiogenic isoforms. Therefore, antibodies that exclusively target the pro-angiogenic isoforms may be more effective. To determine whether C-terminal-targeted antibodies could inhibit angiogenesis, we generated a polyclonal antibody to the last nine amino acids of VEGF-A165 and tested it in vitro and in vivo. The exon8a polyclonal antibody (Exon8apab) did not bind VEGF-A165b even at greater than 100-fold excess concentration, and dose dependently inhibited VEGF-A165 induced endothelial migration in vitro at concentrations similar to the VEGF-A antibody fragment ranibizumab. Exon8apab can inhibit tumour growth of LS174t cells implanted in vivo and blood vessel growth in the eye in models of age-related macular degeneration, with equal efficacy to non-selective anti-VEGF-A antibodies. It also showed that it was the VEGF-Axxx levels specifically that were upregulated in plasma from patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. These results suggest that VEGF-A165-specific antibodies can be therapeutically useful.
PMCID: PMC4280485  PMID: 25274272
VEGF; Splicing; Bevacizumab; VEGF-A165b
16.  The role of VEGF-A165b in trophoblast survival 
Pre-eclampsia remains a dominant cause of maternal and fetal mortality in developed countries. In a previous prospective study we identified a fall in the VEGF-A isoform VEGF-A165b in the plasma of patients in the first trimester to be a predictor of later pre-eclampsia. VEGF-A165b has been shown to have potent cytoprotective properties in many cell types. We therefore tested the hypothesis that VEGF-A165b may be cytoprotective for placental trophoblasts.
We used an immortalised first trimester trophoblast cell line exposed to chemical toxicity, and physiological (<2% O2) and atmospheric oxygen (21% O2) in the presence or absence of VEGF-A165b, angiogenic VEGF-A165a, a non-specific anti-VEGF-A blocking antibody (bevacizumab), or a specific anti-VEGF-A165b antibody. Cell viability and cytotoxicity were measured by trypan blue and LDH assay respectively.
Under high (21%) levels of oxygen, trophoblast viability was increased, and cytotoxicity reduced by exogenous recombinant VEGF-A165b (p < 0.05, n = 10) or VEGF-A165a. The cytoprotective effect was not seen under lower (<2%) oxygen conditions, where VEGF-A165b was upregulated. However inhibition of VEGF-A with blocking antibodies (bevacizumab or anti-VEGF-A165b) had marked cytotoxic effects under low oxygen conditions presumably through the blockade of autocrine survival pathways.
These results show that when trophoblasts are exposed to lower oxygen tensions (as they are early in the 1st trimester) endogenous VEGF-A165b contributes to their survival through an autocrine pathway. In contrast in high oxygen conditions exogenous VEGF-A isoforms have a greater effect on trophoblast survival.
PMCID: PMC4143552  PMID: 25128406
VEGF; Pre-eclampsia; Trophoblasts
17.  Chemotrap-1: an engineered soluble receptor that blocks chemokine-induced migration of metastatic cancer cells in vivo 
Cancer research  2010;70(20):8138-8148.
Cancer and dendritic cells recognise and migrate towards chemokines secreted from lymphatics, and use this mechanism to invade the lymphatic system, and cancer cells, metastasise through it. The lymphatic secreted chemokine ligand CCL21 has been identified as a key regulatory molecule in the switch to a metastatic phenotype in melanoma and breast cancer cells. However, it is not known whether CCL21 inhibition is a potential therapeutic strategy for inhibition of metastasis. Here, we describe an engineered CCL21 soluble inhibitor, Chemotrap-1, which inhibits migration of metastatic melanoma cells in vivo. Two-hybrid, pull down and co-immunoprecipitation assays allowed us to identify a naturally occurring human zinc finger protein with CCL21 chemokine-binding properties. Further analyses revealed a short peptide (~ 70 amino-acids), with a predicted coiled-coil structure, which is sufficient for association with CCL21. This CCL21 chemokine-binding peptide was then fused to the Fc region of human IgG1 to generate Chemotrap-1, a human chemokine-binding Fc-fusion protein. Surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and chemotaxis assays showed that Chemotrap-1 binds CCL21 and inhibits CCL21-induced migration of melanoma cells in vitro with sub nM affinity. In addition, Chemotrap-1 blocked migration of melanoma cells towards lymphatic endothelial cells in vitro and in vivo. Finally, Chemotrap-1 strongly reduced lymphatic invasion, tracking and metastasis of CCR7 expressing melanoma cells in vivo. Together, these results show that CCL21 chemokine inhibition by Chemotrap-1 is a potential therapeutic strategy for metastasis, and provide further support for the hypothesis that lymphatic mediated metastasis is a chemokine-dependent process.
PMCID: PMC3034641  PMID: 20736366
CCL21; CCR7; metastasis; melanoma; lymphatic
18.  VEGF-A165b Is Cytoprotective and Antiangiogenic in the Retina 
The alternative splice variant of VEGF, VEGF165b, is cytoprotective for endothelial and epithelial cells and is antiangiogenic, making it a new candidate for the treatment of ischemic retinopathies.
A number of key ocular diseases, including diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, are characterized by localized areas of epithelial or endothelial damage, which can ultimately result in the growth of fragile new blood vessels, vitreous hemorrhage, and retinal detachment. VEGF-A165, the principal neovascular agent in ocular angiogenic conditions, is formed by proximal splice site selection in its terminal exon 8. Alternative splicing of this exon results in an antiangiogenic isoform, VEGF-A165b, which is downregulated in diabetic retinopathy. Here the authors investigate the antiangiogenic activity of VEGF165b and its effect on retinal epithelial and endothelial cell survival.
VEGF-A165b was injected intraocularly in a mouse model of retinal neovascularization (oxygen-induced retinopathy [OIR]). Cytotoxicity and cell migration assays were used to determine the effect of VEGF-A165b.
VEGF-A165b dose dependently inhibited angiogenesis (IC50, 12.6 pg/eye) and retinal endothelial migration induced by 1 nM VEGF-A165 across monolayers in culture (IC50, 1 nM). However, it also acts as a survival factor for endothelial cells and retinal epithelial cells through VEGFR2 and can stimulate downstream signaling. Furthermore, VEGF-A165b injection, while inhibiting neovascular proliferation in the eye, reduced the ischemic insult in OIR (IC50, 2.6 pg/eye). Unlike bevacizumab, pegaptanib did not interact directly with VEGF-A165b.
The survival effects of VEGF-A165b signaling can protect the retina from ischemic damage. These results suggest that VEGF-A165b may be a useful therapeutic agent in ischemia-induced angiogenesis and a cytoprotective agent for retinal pigment epithelial cells.
PMCID: PMC2910648  PMID: 20237249
19.  Recombinant Human VEGF165b Inhibits Experimental Choroidal Neovascularization 
The alternative splice form of VEGF, VEGF-A165b, inhibits choroidal neovascularization at very low doses in mice, indicating that it may be an effective therapy for age-related macular degeneration, comparable with or better than existing anti-VEGF therapy.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF-A) is the principal stimulator of angiogenesis in wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). However, VEGF-A is generated by alternate splicing into two families, the proangiogenic VEGF-Axxx family and the antiangiogenic VEGF-Axxxb family. It is the proangiogenic family that is responsible for the blood vessel growth seen in AMD.
To determine the role of antiangiogenic isoforms of VEGF-A as inhibitors of choroidal neovascularization, the authors used a model of laser-induced choroidal neovascularization in the mouse eye and investigated VEGF-A165b effects on endothelial cells and VEGFRs in vitro.
VEGF-A165b inhibited VEGF-A165–mediated endothelial cell migration with a dose effect similar to that of ranibizumab and bevacizumab and 200-fold more potent than that of pegaptanib. VEGF-A165b bound both VEGFR1 and VEGFR2 with affinity similar to that of VEGF-A165. After laser injury, mice were injected either intraocularly or subcutaneously with recombinant human VEGF-A165b. Intraocular injection of rhVEGF-A165b gave a pronounced dose-dependent inhibition of fluorescein leakage, with an IC50 of 16 pg/eye, neovascularization (IC50, 0.8 pg/eye), and lesion as assessed by histologic staining (IC50, 8 pg/eye). Subcutaneous administration of 100 μg twice a week also inhibited fluorescein leakage and neovascularization and reduced lesion size.
These results show that VEGF-A165b is a potent antiangiogenic agent in a mouse model of age-related macular degeneration and suggest that increasing the ratio of antiangiogenic-to-proangiogenic isoforms may be therapeutically effective in this condition.
PMCID: PMC2910649  PMID: 20237252
20.  VEGF-A splicing 
Nature reviews. Cancer  2008;8(11):880-887.
The physiology of microvessels limits the growth and development of tumours. Tumours gain nutrients and excrete waste through growth-associated microvessels. New anticancer therapies target this microvasculature by inhibiting vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) splice isoforms that promote microvessel growth. However, certain VEGF-A splice isoforms in normal tissues inhibit growth of microvessels. Thus, it is the VEGF-A isoform balance, which is controlled by mRNA splicing, that orchestrates angiogenesis. Here, we highlight the functional differences between the pro-angiogenic and the anti-angiogenic VEGF-A isoform families and the potential to harness the synthetic capacity of cancer cells to produce factors that inhibit, rather than aid, cancer growth.
PMCID: PMC2613352  PMID: 18923433
21.  The Alternatively Spliced Anti-Angiogenic Family of VEGF Isoforms VEGFxxxbin Human Kidney Development 
Nephron. Physiology  2008;110(4):p57-p67.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), required for renal development, is generated by alternative splicing of 8 exons to produce two families, pro-angiogenic VEGFxxx, formed by proximal splicing in exon 8 (exon 8a), and anti-angiogenic VEGFxxxb, generated by distal splicing in exon 8 (exon 8b). VEGF165b, the first described exon 8b-containing isoform, antagonises VEGF165 and is anti-angiogenic in vivo.
Using VEGFxxxb-specific antibodies, we investigated its expression quantitatively and qualitatively in developing kidney, and measured the effect of VEGF165b on renal endothelial and epithelial cells.
VEGFxxxb formed 45% of total VEGF protein in adult renal cortex, and VEGF165b does not increase glomerular endothelial cell permeability, it inhibits migration, and is cytoprotective for podocytes. During renal development, VEGFxxxb was expressed in the condensed vesicles of the metanephros, epithelial cells of the comma-shaped bodies, invading endothelial cells and epithelial cells of the S-shaped body, and in the immature podocytes. Expression reduced as the glomerulus matured.
These results show that the anti-angiogenic VEGFxxxb isoforms are highly expressed in adult and developing renal cortex, and suggest that the VEGFxxxb family plays a role in glomerular maturation and podocyte protection by regulating the pro-angiogenic pro-permeability properties of VEGFxxx isoforms.
PMCID: PMC2635558  PMID: 19039247
Kidney development; Vascular endothelial growth factor 165b; Angiogenesis
22.  VEGF-Mediated Elevated Intracellular Calcium and Angiogenesis in Human Microvascular Endothelial Cells In Vitro Are Inhibited by Dominant Negative TRPC6 
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-induced vascular permeability has been shown to be dependent on calcium influx, possibly through a transient receptor potential cation channel (TRPC)-mediated cation channel with properties of the TRPC3/6/7 subfamily. To investigate further the involvement of this subfamily, we determined the effects of dominant negative TRPC6 overexpression on VEGF-mediated changes of human microvascular endothelial cell (HMVEC) calcium, proliferation, migration, and sprouting.
Cytoplasmic calcium concentration was estimated by fura-2 fluorescence spectrophotometry, migration by Boyden chamber assay, sprouting by immunofluorescence imaging of stimulated endothelial cells, and proliferation by flow cytometry.
Overexpression of a dominant negative TRPC6 construct in HMVECs inhibited the VEGF-mediated increases in cytosolic calcium, migration, sprouting, and proliferation. In contrast, overexpression of a wild-type TRPC6 construct increased the proliferation and migration of HMVECs.
TRPC6 is an obligatory component of cation channels required for the VEGF-mediated increase in cytosolic calcium and subsequent downstream signaling that leads to processes associated with angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2635545  PMID: 18800249
VEGF; TRPC6; calcium; angiogenesis
23.  Detection of VEGF-Axxxb Isoforms in Human Tissues 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68399.
Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor-A (VEGF-A) can be generated as multiple isoforms by alternative splicing. Two families of isoforms have been described in humans, pro-angiogenic isoforms typified by VEGF-A165a, and anti-angiogenic isoforms typified by VEGF-A165b. The practical determination of expression levels of alternative isoforms of the same gene may be complicated by experimental protocols that favour one isoform over another, and the use of specific positive and negative controls is essential for the interpretation of findings on expression of the isoforms. Here we address some of the difficulties in experimental design when investigating alternative splicing of VEGF isoforms, and discuss the use of appropriate control paradigms. We demonstrate why use of specific control experiments can prevent assumptions that VEGF-A165b is not present, when in fact it is. We reiterate, and confirm previously published experimental design protocols that demonstrate the importance of using positive controls. These include using known target sequences to show that the experimental conditions are suitable for PCR amplification of VEGF-A165b mRNA for both q-PCR and RT-PCR and to ensure that mispriming does not occur. We also provide evidence that demonstrates that detection of VEGF-A165b protein in mice needs to be tightly controlled to prevent detection of mouse IgG by a secondary antibody. We also show that human VEGF165b protein can be immunoprecipitated from cultured human cells and that immunoprecipitating VEGF-A results in protein that is detected by VEGF-A165b antibody. These findings support the conclusion that more information on the biology of VEGF-A165b isoforms is required, and confirm the importance of the experimental design in such investigations, including the use of specific positive and negative controls.
PMCID: PMC3729684  PMID: 23935865
24.  WT1 mutants reveal SRPK1 to be a downstream angiogenesis target by altering VEGF splicing 
Cancer cell  2011;20(6):768-780.
Angiogenesis is regulated by the balance of pro-angiogenic VEGF165 and anti-angiogenic VEGF165b splice isoforms. Mutations in WT1, the Wilms’ tumour suppressor gene, suppress VEGF165b and cause abnormal gonadogenesis, renal failure and Wilms’ tumours. In WT1 mutant cells, reduced VEGF165b was due to lack of WT1 mediated transcriptional repression of the splicing factor kinase SRPK1. WT1 bound to the SRPK1 promoter, and repressed expression through a specific WT1 binding-site. In WT1 mutant cells SRPK1-mediated hyperphosphorylation of the oncogenic RNA binding protein SRSF1 regulated splicing of VEGF, and rendered WT1 mutant cells pro-angiogenic. Altered VEGF splicing was reversed by wildtype WT1, knockdown of SRSF1 or SRPK1 and inhibition of SRPK1, which prevented in vitro and in vivo angiogenesis and associated tumour growth.
PMCID: PMC3574979  PMID: 22172722
25.  Borrelidin modulates the alternative splicing of VEGF in favour of anti-angiogenic isoforms 
The polyketide natural product borrelidin 1 is a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis and spontaneous metastasis. Affinity biopanning of a phage display library of colon tumor cell cDNAs identified the tandem WW domains of spliceosome-associated protein formin binding protein 21 (FBP21) as a novel molecular target of borrelidin, suggesting that borrelidin may act as a modulator of alternative splicing. In support of this idea, 1, and its more selective analog 2, bound to purified recombinant WW domains of FBP21. They also altered the ratio of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) isoforms in retinal pigmented endothelial (RPE) cells in favour of anti-angiogenic isoforms. Transfection of RPE cells with FBP21 altered the ratio in favour of pro-angiogenic VEGF isoforms, an effect inhibited by 2. These data implicate FBP21 in the regulation of alternative splicing and suggest the potential of borrelidin analogs as tools to deconvolute key steps of spliceosome function.
PMCID: PMC3399765  PMID: 22822423

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