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J Cell Biochem. 2012 Apr;113(4):1142-51. doi: 10.1002/jcb.23447.

Cross-talk between endothelial and breast cancer cells regulates reciprocal expression of angiogenic factors in vitro.

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  • 1Virginia Tech - Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.


Reciprocal growth factor exchange between endothelial and malignant cells within the tumor microenvironment may directly stimulate neovascularization; however, the role of host vasculature in regulating tumor cell activity is not well understood. While previous studies have examined the angiogenic response of endothelial cells to tumor-secreted factors, few have explored tumor response to endothelial cells. Using an in vitro co-culture system, we investigated the influence of endothelial cells on the angiogenic phenotype of breast cancer cells. Specifically, VEGF, ANG1, and ANG2 gene and protein expression were assessed. When co-cultured with microvascular endothelial cells (HMEC-1), breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-231) significantly increased expression of ANG2 mRNA (20-fold relative to MDA-MB-231 monoculture). Moreover, MDA-MB-231/HMEC-1 co-cultures produced significantly increased levels of ANG2 (up to 580 pg/ml) and VEGF protein (up to 38,400 pg/ml) while ANG1 protein expression was decreased relative to MDA-MB-231 monocultures. Thus, the ratio of ANG1:ANG2 protein, a critical indicator of neovascularization, shifted in favor of ANG2, a phenomenon known to correlate with vessel destabilization and sprouting in vivo. This angiogenic response was not observed in nonmalignant breast epithelial cells (MCF-10A), where absolute protein levels of MCF-10A/HMEC-1 co-cultures were an order of magnitude less than that of the MDA-MB-231/HMEC-1 co-cultures. Results were further verified with a functional angiogenesis assay demonstrating well-defined microvascular endothelial cell (TIME) tube formation when cultured in media collected from MDA-MB-231/HMEC-1 co-cultures. This study demonstrates that the angiogenic activity of malignant mammary epithelial cells is significantly enhanced by the presence of endothelial cells.

© 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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