Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A inhibitors exhibit unseen high responses and toxicity in recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer suggesting an important role for the VEGF/VEGFR pathway. We studied the correlation of VEGF signalling and AKT/mTOR signalling. Using a tissue microarray of clinical samples (N=86), tumour cell immunohistochemical staining of AKT/mTOR downstream targets, pS6 and p4E-BP1, together with tumour cell staining of VEGF-A and pVEGFR2 were semi-quantified. A correlation was found between the marker for VEGFR2 activation (pVEGFR2) and a downstream target of AKT/mTOR signalling (pS6) (R=0.29; P=0.002). Additional gene expression analysis in an independent cDNA microarray dataset (N=24) showed a negative correlation (R=-0.73, P<0.0001) between the RPS6 and the VEGFR2 gene, which is consistent as the gene expression and phosphorylation of S6 is inversely regulated. An activated tumour cell VEGFR2/AKT/mTOR pathway was associated with increased incidence of ascites (χ2, P=0.002) and reduced overall survival of cisplatin-taxane-based patients with serous histology (N=32, log-rank test, P=0.04). These data propose that VEGF-A signalling acts on tumour cells as a stimulator of the AKT/mTOR pathway. Although VEGF-A inhibitors are classified as anti-angiogenic drugs, these data suggest that the working mechanism has an important additional modality of targeting the tumour cells directly.

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Keywords Angiogenesis, Autocrine, Ovarian cancer, VEGF-A, VEGFR2, mTOR
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Trinh, X.B, Tjalma, W.A.A, Vermeulen, P.B, van den Eynden, G, van der Auwera, I, van Laere, S.J, … van Dam, P.A. (2009). The VEGF pathway and the AKT/mTOR/p70S6K1 signalling pathway in human epithelial ovarian cancer. British Journal of Cancer, 100(6), 971–978. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6604921