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Am J Pathol. 1997 Dec; 151(6): 1523–1530.
PMCID: PMC1858348

Neutralizing antibodies against epidermal growth factor and ErbB-2/neu receptor tyrosine kinases down-regulate vascular endothelial growth factor production by tumor cells in vitro and in vivo: angiogenic implications for signal transduction therapy of solid tumors.


The overexpression in tumor cells of (proto)-oncogenic receptor tyrosine kinases such as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) or ErbB2/neu (also known as HER-2) is generally thought to contribute to the development of solid tumors primarily through their effects on promoting uncontrolled cell proliferation. However, agents that antagonize the function of the protein products encoded by these (proto)-oncogenes are known to behave in vivo in a cytotoxic-like manner. This implies that such oncogenes may regulate critical cell survival functions, including angiogenesis. The latter could occur as a consequence of regulation of relevant growth factors by such oncogenes. We therefore sought to determine whether EGFR or ErbB2/neu may contribute to tumor angiogenesis by examining their effects on the expression of vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VEGF)/vascular permeability factor (VPF), one of the most important of all known inducers of tumor angiogenesis. We found that in vitro treatment of EGFR-positive A431 human epidermoid carcinoma cells, which are known to be heavily dependent on VEGF/VPF in vivo as an angiogenesis growth factor, with the C225 anti-EGFR neutralizing antibody caused a dose-dependent inhibition of VEGF protein expression. Prominent suppression of VEGF/VPF expression in vivo, as well as a significant reduction in tumor blood vessel counts, were also observed in established A431 tumors shortly after injection of the antibody as few as four times into nude mice. Transformation of NIH 3T3 fibroblasts with mutant ErbB2/neu, another EGFR-like oncogenic tyrosine kinase, resulted in a significant induction of VEGF/VPF, and the magnitude of this effect was further elevated by hypoxia. Moreover, treatment of ErbB2/neu-positive SKBR-3 human breast cancer cells in vitro with a specific neutralizing anti-ErbB2/neu monoclonal antibody (4D5) resulted in a dose-dependent reduction of VEGF/VPF protein expression. Taken together, the results suggest that oncogenic properties of EGFR and ErbB2/neu may, at least in part, be mediated by stimulation of tumor angiogenesis by up-regulating potent angiogenesis growth factors such as VEGF/VPF. These genetic changes may cooperate with epigenetic/environmental effects such as hypoxia to maximally stimulate VEGF/VPF expression. Therapeutic disruption of EGFR or ErbB2/neu protein function in vivo may therefore result in partial suppression of angiogenesis, a feature that could enhance the therapeutic index of such agents in vivo and endow them with anti-tumor effects, the magnitude of which may be out of proportion with their observed cytostatic effects in monolayer tissue culture.

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Selected References

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