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Cancer Res. 2006 Apr 15;66(8):4249-55.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor activation of TrkB induces vascular endothelial growth factor expression via hypoxia-inducible factor-1alpha in neuroblastoma cells.

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  • 1Pediatric Oncology Branch, National Cancer Institute, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


The extent of angiogenesis and/or vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression in neuroblastoma tumors correlates with metastases, N-myc amplification, and poor clinical outcome. Recently, we have shown that insulin-like growth factor-I and serum-derived growth factors stimulate VEGF expression in neuroblastoma cells via induction of hypoxia-inducible factor-1alpha (HIF-1alpha). Because another marker of poor prognosis in neuroblastoma tumors is high expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its tyrosine kinase receptor, TrkB, we sought to evaluate the involvement of BDNF and TrkB in the regulation of VEGF expression. VEGF mRNA levels in neuroblastoma cells cultured in serum-free media increased after 8 to 16 hours in BDNF. BDNF induced increases in VEGF and HIF-1alpha protein, whereas HIF-1beta levels were unaffected. BDNF induced a 2- to 4-fold increase in VEGF promoter activity, which could be abrogated if the hypoxia response element in the VEGF promoter was mutated. Transfection of HIF-1alpha small interfering RNA blocked BDNF-stimulated increases in VEGF promoter activity and VEGF protein expression. The BDNF-stimulated increases in HIF-1alpha and VEGF expression required TrkB tyrosine kinase activity and were completely blocked by inhibitors of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathways. These data indicate that BDNF plays a role in regulating VEGF levels in neuroblastoma cells and that targeted therapies to BDNF/TrkB, PI3K, mTOR signal transduction pathways, and/or HIF-1alpha have the potential to inhibit VEGF expression and limit neuroblastoma tumor growth.

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