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Cancer Res. 2001 Aug 15;61(16):6020-4.

Hypoxia and acidosis independently up-regulate vascular endothelial growth factor transcription in brain tumors in vivo.

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  • 1Edwin L. Steele Laboratory, Department of Radiation Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


Hypoxia and acidosis are hallmarks of tumors as well as critical determinants of response to treatments. They can upregulate vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in vitro. However, the relationship between tissue oxygen partial pressure (pO(2))/pH and VEGF transcription in vivo is not known. Thus, we developed a novel in vivo microscopy technique to simultaneously measure VEGF promoter activity, pO(2), and pH. To monitor VEGF expression in vivo, we engineered human glioma cells that express green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the control of the VEGF promoter. These cells were implanted into the cranial windows in severe combined immunodeficient mice, and VEGF promoter activity was assessed by GFP imaging. Tissue pO(2) and pH were determined by phosphorescence quenching microscopy and ratio imaging microscopy, respectively. These techniques have allowed us to show, for the first time, that VEGF transcription in brain tumors is independently regulated by the tissue pO(2) and pH. One week after tumor implantation, significant angiogenesis was observed, with increased GFP fluorescence throughout the tumor. Under hypoxic or neutral pH conditions, VEGF-promoter activity increased, with a decrease in pO(2) and independent of pH. Under low pH or oxygenated conditions, VEGF-promoter activity increased, with a decrease in pH and independent of pO(2). In agreement with the in vivo findings, both hypoxia and acidic pH induced VEGF expression in these cells in vitro and showed no additive effect for combined hypoxia and low pH. These results suggest that VEGF transcription in brain tumors is regulated by both tissue pO(2) and pH via distinct pathways.

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