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Aberrant, ectopic expression of VEGF and VEGF receptors 1 and 2 in malignant colonic epithelial cells. Implications for these cells growth via an autocrine mechanism.



Vascular endothelial growth factor A (referred to as VEGF) is implicated in colon cancer growth. Currently, the main accepted mechanism by which VEGF promotes colon cancer growth is via the stimulation of angiogenesis, which was originally postulated by late Judah Folkman. However, the cellular source of VEGF in colon cancer tissue; and, the expression of VEGF and its receptors VEGF-R1 and VEGF-R2 in colon cancer cells are not fully known and are subjects of controversy.

Material and methods

We examined and quantified expression of VEGF, VEGF-R1 and VEGF-R2 in three different human colonic tissue arrays containing sections of adenocarcinoma (n=43) and normal mucosa (n = 41). In human colon cancer cell lines HCT116 and HT29 and normal colon cell lines NCM356 and NCM460, we examined expression of VEGF, VEGF-R1 and VEGF-R2 mRNA and protein, VEGF production and secretion into the culture medium; and, the effect of a potent, selective inhibitor of VEGF receptors, AL-993, on cell proliferation.


Human colorectal cancer specimens had strong expression of VEGF in cancer cells and also expressed VEGF-R1 and VEGF-R2.In vitro studies showed that human colon cancer cell lines, HCT116 and HT29, but not normal colonic cell lines, express VEGF, VEGF-R1 and VEGF-R2 and secrete VEGF into the medium up to a concentration 2000 pg/ml within 48 h. Furthermore, we showed that inhibition of VEGF receptors using a specific VEGF-R inhibitor significantly reduced proliferation (by >50%) of cultured colon cancer cell lines.


Our findings support the contention that VEGF generated by colon cancer cells stimulates their growth directly through an autocrine mechanism that is independent of its primary function in the induction of angiogenesis.

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