Quantitative data on the expression of multiple factors that control angiogenesis in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are limited. A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying angiogenesis in HCC will improve the rational choice of anti-angiogenic treatment. We quantified gene and protein expression of members of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and angiopoietin systems and studied localization of VEGF, its receptors VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2, Angiopoietin (Ang)-1 and Ang-2, and their receptor, in HCC in noncirrhotic and cirrhotic livers. We employed real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), western blot, and immunohistology, and compared the outcome with highly angiogenic human renal cell carcinoma (RCC). HCC in noncirrhotic and cirrhotic livers expressed VEGF and its receptors to a similar extent as normal liver, although in cirrhotic background, VEGFR-2 levels in both tumor and adjacent tissue were decreased. Ang-1 expression was slightly increased compared with normal liver, whereas Tie-2 was strongly down-regulated in the tumor vasculature. Ang-2 messenger RNA (mRNA) levels were also low in HCCs of both noncirrhotic and cirrhotic livers, implying that VEGF-driven angiogenic sprouting accompanied by angiopoietin-driven vascular destabilization is not pronounced. In RCC, VEGF-A levels were one order of magnitude higher. At the same time, endothelially expressed Ang-2 was over 30-fold increased compared with expression in normal kidney, whereas Ang-1 expression was decreased. Conclusion: In hepatocellular carcinoma, tumor vascularization is not per se VEGF/angiopoietin driven. However, increased CD31 expression and morphological changes representative of sinusoidal capillarization in tumor vasculature indicate that vascular remodeling is taking place. This portends that therapeutic intervention of HCC at the level of the vasculature is optional, and that further studies into the molecular control thereof are warranted.

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doi.org/10.1002/hep.22490, hdl.handle.net/1765/14132
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Zeng, W., Gouw, A., van den Heuvel, M., Zwiers, P., Zondervan, P., Poppema, S., … Molema, G. (2008). The angiogenic makeup of human hepatocellular carcinoma does not favor vascular endothelial growth factor/angiopoietin-driven sprouting neovascularization. Hepatology, 48(5), 1517–1527. doi:10.1002/hep.22490