VEGF-B expression in human primary breast cancers is associated with lymph node metastasis but not angiogenesis.
Gunningham SP., Currie MJ., Han C., Robinson BA., Scott PA., Harris AL., Fox SB.
Angiogenesis is essential for tumour growth and metastasis. It is regulated by numerous angiogenic factors, one of the most important being vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Recently VEGF-B, a new VEGF family member that binds to the tyrosine kinase receptor flt-1, has been identified. Although the importance of VEGF has been shown in many human tumour types, the contribution of VEGF-B to tumour neovascularization is unknown in any tumour type. This study therefore measured the mRNA level of VEGF-B and its receptor flt-1 by ribonuclease protection assay and the pattern of VEGF-B expression by immunohistochemistry in 13 normal breast samples and 68 invasive breast cancers. Flt-1 expression was significantly higher in tumours than in normal breast (p=0.02) but no significant difference was seen in VEGF-B between normal and neoplastic breast (p=0.3). There was a significant association between VEGF-B and node status (p=0.02) and the number of involved nodes (p=0.01), but not with age (p=0.7), size (p=0.6), oestrogen receptor (ER) (p=0.2), grade (p=0.5) or vascular invasion (p=0.16). No significant relationship was present between VEGF-B and flt-1 (p=0.2) or tumour vascularity (p=0.4). VEGF-B was expressed mostly in the cytoplasm of tumour cells, although occasional stromal components including fibroblasts and endothelial cells were also positive. No difference in VEGF-B expression was observed adjacent to regions of necrosis, in keeping with this VEGF family member not being hypoxically regulated. These findings suggest that VEGF-B may contribute to tumour progression by a non-angiogenic mechanism, possibly by increasing plasminogen activators and hence metastasis, as has been described in vitro. Measurement of VEGF-B together with other angiogenic factors may identify a poor prognostic patient group, which may benefit from anti-VEGF receptor therapy targeted to flt-1 (VEGFR1) as well as kdr (VEGFR2).