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Blood. 2004 May 15;103(10):3883-9. Epub 2004 Jan 15.

Internal and external autocrine VEGF/KDR loops regulate survival of subsets of acute leukemia through distinct signaling pathways.

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  • 1Angiogenesis Laboratory, CIPM/Instituto Portugu√™s de Oncologia Francisco Gentil, Oeiras, Portugal.


Besides being expressed on endothelial cells, vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFRs) are also functional on subsets of leukemias, resulting in autocrine loops that sustain leukemia migration and proliferation. While recent evidence suggests that VEGF supports hematopoietic stem cell survival via an internal loop, the molecular mechanisms whereby autocrine stimulation of VEGFR-2 (KDR) promotes leukemia growth are not well understood. Here we show on acute myeloid primary leukemias and cell lines that VEGF/KDR autocrine loops operate both internally and externally. First, we demonstrate that KDR is constitutively phosphorylated and located at the nucleus of VEGF-producing leukemias. Treatment with anti-VEGF antibody, which acts externally, blocked KDR nuclear translocation and inhibited nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappaB; p65 and c-rel) activation. In contrast, a KDR-specific intracellular inhibitor failed to block KDR nuclear translocation, but inhibited the constitutive activation of mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK)/Erk and the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/AKT pathways. Notably, treatment with the anti-VEGF antibody alone had little effect on cell survival, while the internal inhibitor induced leukemia apoptosis, and the 2 drugs produced synergistic effects, together and with chemotherapy, reducing cell survival to a larger extent than either agent alone. Our results demonstrate that internal and external VEGF/KDR autocrine loops regulate leukemia survival via different mechanisms, and suggest that blocking both may have therapeutic potential.

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