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Int J Cancer. 2005 Jun 10;115(2):202-13.

Interleukin-6 induces transcriptional activation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in astrocytes in vivo and regulates VEGF promoter activity in glioblastoma cells via direct interaction between STAT3 and Sp1.

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  • 1Division of Neuropathology, Institute of Pathology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


Interleukin-6 (IL-6) expression is strongly correlated with the degree of human glioma malignancy and necessary for tumor formation in a mouse model of spontaneous astrocytomas. Yet, exactly how IL-6 contributes to malignant progression of these brain tumors is still unclear. We have scrutinized the mechanism of transcriptional activation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression by IL-6 in the mouse brain and in glioblastoma cells. We demonstrate here that IL-6 drives transcriptional upregulation of VEGF in astrocytes in vivo using glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-IL-6/VEGF-green fluorescent protein (GFP) double transgenic mice. We further show that IL-6-induced VEGF transcription and VEGF secretion by human glioblastoma cells is dependent on signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3). By progressive 5'-deletion analysis we defined the minimal VEGF promoter region for IL-6-responsiveness to nucleotides -88/-50. Surprisingly, this promoter region is rich in GC-boxes and does not contain STAT3 binding elements. Electrophoretic mobility shift and supershift assays revealed binding of Sp1 and Sp3 to the -88/-50 element upon IL-6 stimulation. Interestingly, preincubation with STAT3 antibody prevented the binding of Sp1 and Sp3 to the -88/-50 element, indicating that STAT3 is involved in IL-6-driven Sp1/Sp3 protein-DNA complex formation. Physical interaction of STAT3 and Sp1 was demonstrated by coimmunoprecipitation. The functional relevance of the STAT3/Sp1 association was corroborated by transient transfection experiments, which showed that overexpression of constitutively active STAT3 increased the minimal VEGF promoter activity. Taken together, our study suggests that IL-6 promotes tumor angiogenesis in gliomas and describes a novel transcriptional activation mechanism for STAT3 in the context of a STAT3 binding element (SBE)-free promoter.

Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc

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