Hypoxia and VEGF mRNA expression in human tumors.Ziemer LS. Koch CJ. Maity A. Magarelli DP. Horan AM. Evans SM.
Validation Studies] Neoplasia (New York). 3(6):500-8, 2001 Nov-Dec.
High expression of circulating plasma vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in patients with cancer is an indicator of poor treatment response. Similarly, hypoxia in tumors, as measured by oxygen needle electrodes, has been found to predict for tumor-treatment failure. These two predictors may be related because hypoxia is a potent stimulator of VEGF expression in vitro. However, the demonstration of a relationship between hypoxia and VEGF in human tumors has, to date, been indirect or even negative. The purpose of this study was to test whether this unexpected result was caused by factors unique to human tumors, or whether the prior results could have been influenced by the known complexities of VEGF regulation. Therefore, we undertook a direct assessment of VEGF induction in human tumors using in situ hybridization and compared its distribution with that of hypoxia, as measured by the distribution of adducts of the hypoxia marker EF5. The distribution of both markers was assessed in relationship to the distribution of blood vessels, as measured by antibodies to CD31. Our hypothesis was that VEGF mRNA and hypoxia would colocalize, assuming that detectability of the former was not limiting. Four squamous cell carcinomas, three sarcomas and one glioblastoma multiforme were studied. When VEGF mRNA signal was detectable, its maxima colocalized with regional maxima of EF5 binding. The strongest levels of both signals were sometimes adjacent to regions of tissue necrosis. However, we were unable to predict absolute levels of EF5 binding based on absolute levels of VEGF mRNA. Conversely, for all tumors studied, regions with relatively low levels of EF5 binding had relatively low or undetectable VEGF mRNA. We found moderate EF5 binding in some keratinized cells but VEGF mRNA was not expressed by these differentiated cells. The paradigm that hypoxia and VEGF expression are linked in human tumors is supported by the data presented herein. A better understanding of the biology behind VEGF expression, including its modulation by hypoxia, is important for optimizing its use as a prognostic indicator and/or modulating its presence with biologic therapies.