BACKGROUND: Ongoing inflammatory processes resulting in airway and vascular remodelling characterise chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its receptors VEGFR-1 (Flt-1) and VEGFR-2 (KDR/Flk-1) could play a role in tissue remodelling and angiogenesis in COPD. METHODS: The cellular expression pattern of VEGF, Flt-1, and KDR/Flk-1 was examined by immunohistochemistry in central and peripheral lung tissues obtained from ex-smokers with COPD (forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV(1)) <75% predicted; n = 14) or without COPD (FEV(1) >85% predicted; n = 14). The immunohistochemical staining of each molecule was quantified using a visual scoring method with grades ranging from 0 (no) to 3 (intense). RESULTS: VEGF, Flt-1, and KDR/Flk-1 immunostaining was localised in vascular and airway smooth muscle (VSM and ASM) cells, bronchial, bronchiolar and alveolar epithelium, and macrophages. Pulmonary endothelial cells expressed Flt-1 and KDR/Flk-1 abundantly but not VEGF. Bronchial VEGF expression was higher in microvascular VSM cells and ASM cells of patients with COPD than in patients without COPD (1.7 and 1.6-fold, p<0.01, respectively). VEGF expression in intimal and medial VSM (1.7 and 1.3-fold, p<0.05) of peripheral pulmonary arteries associated with the bronchiolar airways was more intense in COPD, as was VEGF expression in the small pulmonary vessels in the alveolar region (1.5 and 1.7-fold, p<0.02). In patients with COPD, KDR/Flk-1 expression was enhanced in endothelial cells and in intimal and medial VSM (1.3, 1.9 and 1.5-fold, p<0.02) while endothelial Flt-1 expression was 1.7 times higher (p<0.03). VEGF expression was significantly increased in bronchiolar and alveolar epithelium as well as in bronchiolar macrophages (1.5-fold, p<0.001). The expression of VEGF in bronchial VSM and mucosal microvessels as well as bronchiolar epithelium was inversely correlated with FEV(1) (r<-0.45; p<0.01). CONCLUSIONS: VEGF and its receptors Flt-1 and KDR/Flk-1 may be involved in peripheral vascular and airway remodelling processes in an autocrine and/or paracrine manner. This system may also be associated with epithelial cell viability during airway wall remodelling in COPD.

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Thorax: an international journal of respiratory medicine
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Kranenburg, A., de Boer, P., Alagappan, V. K. T., Sterk, P., & Sharma, H. (2005). Enhanced bronchial expression of vascular endothelial growth factor and receptors (Flk-1 and Flt-1) in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Thorax: an international journal of respiratory medicine, 60(2), 106–113. doi:10.1136/thx.2004.023986