The short form of the alternatively spliced flt-4 but not its ligand vascular endothelial growth factor C is related to lymph node metastasis in human breast cancers.
Gunningham SP., Currie MJ., Han C., Robinson BA., Scott PA., Harris AL., Fox SB.
Angiogenesis is essential for tumor growth and metastasis. It is regulated by numerous angiogenic factors, one of the most important being vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Recently, VEGF-C, a new VEGF family member, has been identified that binds to the tyrosine kinase receptors flt-4 [VEGF receptor (VEGFR) 3] and KDR (VEGFR2). Although the importance of VEGF has been shown in many human tumor types, the contribution of VEGF-C and its primary receptor flt-4 to tumor progression is less well understood. We have therefore measured the level of VEGF-C, flt-4, and KDR mRNA by RNase protection assay and the pattern of VEGF-C expression by immunohistochemistry in 11 normal breast tissue samples and 61 invasive breast cancers. No significant difference in VEGF-C expression was observed between normal and neoplastic breast tissues (P = 0.11). There was a significant correlation between VEGF-C and both flt-4 (P = 0.02) and KDR (P = 0.0002), but no association was seen between VEGF-C and either lymph node status (P = 0.66) or number of involved nodes (P = 0.88), patient age (P = 0.83), tumor size (P = 0.20), estrogen receptor status (P = 0.67), or tumor grade (P = 0.35). No significant relationship was present between VEGF-C and vascular invasion (P = 0.30), tumor vascularity (P = 0.21), VEGF-A (P = 0.62), or thymidine phosphorylase expression (P = 1.00). VEGF-C was expressed predominantly in the cytoplasm of tumor cells, although occasional stromal components including fibroblasts were also positive. We could demonstrate no association between lymph node metastasis and either VEGF-C (P = 0.66) or flt-4 (P = 0.4). However, we did observe a significant loss of the long but not the short isoform of flt-4 in tumors compared with normal tissues (P = 0.02 and P = 0.25, respectively), and this difference was largely accounted for by the reduction of long flt-4 in node-positive tumors. These findings strongly support a role for VEGF-C/flt-4 signaling in tumor growth by enhancement of angiogenesis and/or lymphangiogenesis and suggest that differential regulation of these processes may be controlled via flt-4 isoform transcription. They further suggest that the measurement of flt-4 isoform expression may identify a patient group that is likely to have node-positive disease and therefore benefit from additional treatment and also emphasize an additional ligand interaction that could be exploited by anti-VEGFR therapy.